Optometrists should include oculomotor skills testing for all pediatric eye exams, especially for children with suspected sensory processing disorder (SPD), according to a new study in Optometry and Vision Science. Since optometrists are at the front line in the diagnosis, care and treatment of children with SPD—and the number of children with neurosensory disorders is on the rise—this test is especially significant, the study noted.

Researchers from Western University of Health Sciences found children with SPD exhibited deficient saccades and pursuits compared with typically developing children.

The study used Northeastern State University College of Optometry’s (NSUCO) oculomotor testing in children with SPD and compared the results with typically developing children. They also considered potential age and gender ties to oculomotor performance.

The investigation enrolled children ages seven to 11, who were then assigned into two groups: 60 typically developing children in group one and 68 with SPD in group two. Children were excluded if they reported any physical disabilities or blindness, strabismus, deafness, ocular disease or fractures within six months. Investigators assessed the children’s gait, balance and visual skills, including select visual efficiency and visual processing testing. The NSUCO testing was included as part of the visual efficiency evaluation.

The study showed children with SPD demonstrated decreased oculomotor skills on all tests compared with typically developing children. For the SPD group, boys scored significantly poorer than girls in head and body movement with saccades and pursuits. Overall, the typically developing group’s scores confirmed the established test norms, investigators noted.

Due to the significant differences in oculomotor function in children with SPD and the increasing number of children with neurosensory disorders, optometrists should consider oculomotor testing on all pediatric patients and particularly in children with SPD, researchers said. If patients without an SPD diagnosis score below average with NSUCO testing, ODs should conduct an in-depth history and referral for further evaluation, if necessary.

“We as optometrists will be paramount in helping to obtain diagnosis and treatment for these children,” the study authors conclude in their paper. “Furthermore, this is an opportunity for optometrists to work with occupational therapists, speech and language pathologists, physical therapists, pediatricians, and other professionals to provide these children with comprehensive multidisciplinary care and treatment.” 

Walker K, Redman-Bentley D, Remick-Waltman K, et al. Differences in oculomotor function between children with sensory processing disorder and typical development. Optom Vis Sci. 2019;96(3):172-79.