For the first 21 years of her life, Amrit Bilkhu, OD, FAAO, assumed that having headaches and double vision was a normal part of life. It wasn’t until her binocular disease class at the Illinois College of Optometry that she realized her chronic symptoms were treatable with vision therapy. After acing the class and signing up to become a patient herself, Dr. Bilkhu’s more than 15 years of symptoms and increasing myopia disappeared after less than 10 weeks in therapy. She says it was a life-changing time.
So when she started working at the Bolton Optometry Clinic in Bolton, Ontario, Canada, Dr. Bilkhu knew she wanted to create those “life-changing” moments for others. Her residency at the Herbert Wertheim School of Optometry at the University of California Berkeley consisted mainly of patients with amblyopia, strabismus, binocular vision dysfunction, visual perceptual challenges and brain injury. Her patients were of all ages, but she saw herself in the school-age kids who were dealing with frustrating vision issues at such a young age; her youngest vision therapy patient during her residency was four years old.
ALL ABOUT THE KIDS
Dr. Bilkhu’s focus is on making the kids feel comfortable, since she says going to the eye doctor may not be exactly the most fun thing. In order to keep the kids from waiting too long, Dr. Bilkhu offers the option to complete a developmental and academic history form before their appointment, with the help of an adult. That way, she can get a sense of the child’s needs with them still in the comfort of their own home, putting less stress on both patient and parent.
Then, when it’s time for their visit, she adjusts her instruments to make them more kid-friendly.
“I do half of the exam in the waiting room with infant and toddler patients,” Dr. Bilkhu says, laughing. She’ll get on the floor with the kids and use stickers for the cover test. She’ll also ask the child to tell her details about the sticker, which tests both their overall vision and their range of development—something she is passionate about promoting. In fact, she runs an Etsy page that offers affordable and downloadable infographics about pediatric vision. These resources help parents promote and track visual developmental milestones and visual processing skills. She says this is especially important as the child prepares to start school or if they spend extensive time on digital devices.
“It’s not the iPad, laptop or phone that’s the problem. It’s the amount of time spent on those devices and the proximity of the device to the face,” Dr. Bilkhu says. She recommends children watch content on a TV rather than a handheld device in order to reduce eye strain. She also pushes parents to encourage screen breaks with something that catches their attention. Picture books or building blocks are good distractions, she says.
The increase of digital device usage in schools can trigger or worsen symptoms, too, she says. Knowing the signs and symptoms of vision struggles in toddlers can help avoid developmental delays later, so the earlier they are caught, the better, she says.
Find Dr. Bilkhu on Instagram @dr.amritbilkhu
Check out her Etsy page EyeDoctorBilkhu
Or, listen to her podcast “The Four Eyes Optometry Podcast” on Instagram @foureyesoptom
Dr. Bilkhu’s independent pediatric-focused practice is set to open in Vaughan, Ontario, Canada, later this year. Keep an eye out for the WO story soon!