It can be difficult to diagnose vision problems in young children because an eye exam requires a lot of attention and a lot of sitting still (a real challenge!) But an eye exam is essential as early as possible, to make sure to diagnose any sight defect like amblyopia (lazy eye) and strabismus (crossed eyes).

A common test when young children visit the optometrist is the LEA vision acuity test, which allows to identify the smallest symbol that the child can discern. It is basically the child’s version of the Snellen Chart (the one with the block letters that decrease in size!) that we all know. However, here are 2 issues with this test when using it on a child:

The first one is getting the child to sit and cooperate for the entire duration of the test. Every parent knows what a challenge that could present!

The second one is that when children, aged 3 to 6, are asked to identify symbols by naming them out loud, they might use the wrong word to describe a symbol (for example, they could call a house a “square”). Then if a symbol corresponding to that incorrect word shows up later in the test (a square), they might use a different word to describe it (like, a “table!”), because they already used the appropriate word, leading to a second incorrect answer. This would negatively impact their visual acuity score.

To solve these 2 issues, a few scientists from the University of Padova, Italy, came up with a great idea in 2011: the use of a serious game.

A girls is playing a serious game on her tablet to improve her vision health

They called their game PlayWithEyes. It consists of symbols as well as cartoon characters displayed on a tablet while some images are projected on a wall, the kids then have to identify the same symbol or character correctly on their tablet. Audio messages and sounds such as applauses encourage the children throughout the test.

As a result, the game was very successful at retaining children’s attention for the entire duration of the test. Because of it, diagnosis was more accurate than regular testing, and it made it a lot easier for doctors and teachers!

The use of serious games in the optical field is still limited, but with these great results, we can’t wait for more exploration of this tool!