Dispensing for children
From establishing preferences to finding the perfect fit, OT hears how team members can add to the experience of a practice’s youngest customers
06 October 2023
A child’s first pair of spectacles not only shape how they see the world – but also how they view a visit to the optometrist.
That first experience of eye care can influence whether a child sees an optometry practice as a boring or possibly even frightening place, or somewhere fun and exciting that they look forward to visiting.
Every interaction with every staff member shapes this experience, not least the staff member who guides them through the process of choosing spectacles.
OT spoke with dispensing opticians, Sally Bates and Dr Elizabeth Bartlam – who hold more than six decades of dispensing experience between them – for their tips on helping the next generation to get the best out of their eyewear.
Bates highlighted the importance of a positive attitude when working with children.
“This is critical when dealing with first-time spectacle wearers. Make the dispensing process fun and focus on the child’s needs,” she said.
Working quickly and efficiently takes into account the limited attention spans of young children, Bates highlighted.
She shared that good frame fitting begins with good frame selection.
“Assess the child’s anatomical features and limit the frame selection to those styles which will fit,” Bates shared.
It is important to educate the parents or caregiver about spectacle wear, care and recall so they can help the child in adapting to glasses wear.
Bartlam recommends having a detailed conversation with the child and their parent or caregiver before selecting a frame – giving them time to ask questions, address concerns and build trust in the practitioner.
“Avoid leaving parents or carers and child to wander around the frames on their own prior to the eye care professional giving suitable advice,” she recommended.
Consult the experts
Bartlam shared that children may need some encouragement to wear spectacles, so it can be helpful to have posters of influential spectacle wearers around the practice.
“It can be an idea to get advice from children on this as they are the experts of who they like,” she said.
It is important to be aware of the attitude of both the child and their parent or carer around glasses.
“When they are told a child needs to wear spectacles there can be an array of feelings,” Bartlam said.
“They may worry the child may suffer from being teased at school and about what all this means to the long-term prospect of the child’s eye health,” she added.
The child should be made to feel special
Practices can also be flexible about what a dispensing area is. Rather than restricting the dispense to a table with a chair, the dispense could be conducted in a play area or while the parent or carer is holding the child.
“Just remember we still need to align ourselves where we need to be in relation to the child to ensure accurate measurements,” Bartlam highlighted.
When it comes to talking with children, Bates recommends using the child’s first name and communicating at their eye level.
As well as being patient and listening to the child, complimenting the child on their frame selection is helpful.
“Always find something positive to say – whether that relates to the frame fitting, colour or style,” Bates shared.
“The child should be made to feel special, particularly at collection,” she added.
Bartlam recommends directing the conversation during the dispense towards the child, while involving the parent or carer.
She highlighted that children may be more likely to respond to someone they can relate to, who is interested in what they are interested in – and is friendly and fun.
“For some children it can be a good idea to communicate with them wherever they prefer to be in the practice – which may mean kneeling on the floor while they are playing,” she said.
Children with different needs
Bartlam shared that for children with autism or learning difficulties, it may be helpful to have a conversation with the parent or carer before the appointment.
This can help to establish the best way of communicating with the child and the most suitable environment to ensure they are comfortable.
It may be appropriate to consider a longer dispensing appointment during a quieter time in practice.
“Practise patience and provide time when needed,” Bartlam said.
Sourcing suppliers that provide frames catering for a variety of facial characteristics – such as Erin’s World – can provide an enhanced service for children with Down’s Syndrome.
When dispensing to children with additional needs, Bates shared that practitioners may consider demonstrating frames on a toy or sibling.
“Alternatively, give a frame to the child to put on you,” she said.
Bates added that a calming environment with low noise levels can be helpful for children with autism who may experience sensory challenges.
Three common mistakes
Sally outlines pitfalls to avoid when it comes to fitting a child with spectacles
1. Prejudging what a child and their family can afford
Educate the patient and parents about what different options are available. For example, coated or filter lenses to reduce visual stress and headaches or sports spectacles, myopia management lenses and contact lenses
2. Not involving the child in the decision-making process
If a child doesn’t like the frame, they won’t wear the spectacles. Engage with the child and understand their personality. Know what they like and dislike regarding colours and styles.
3. Assuming the child has a lack of interest
Children are generally fascinated by facts – particularly when related to themselves. Explain the child's prescription and how the spectacles will improve their vision.