NZ-based optometrist develops new Beardsworth Reading Chart for children

A UK-trained optometrist now practising in New Zealand has developed the new Beardsworth Reading Chart designed to simplify children’s eye tests and address the shortcomings of current testing resources.

Natalie Beardsworth.

Ms Natalie Beardsworth, an optometrist with a special interest in children’s vision, launched her reading chart in New Zealand earlier this year and is now making it available to Australian eyecare professionals.

She said young children are commonly sent for eye exams due to concerns about their vision from teachers or parents when they are having difficulty learning to read.

“When presented with a child like this you really want to listen to them read, hear the fluency of how they read and what size of font they can read. It gives me an idea of their reading ability and their level of vision,” Beardsworth, a general optometrist at Sercombe & Matheson Opticians and a paediatric optometrist at Wellington Hospital, said.

Previously, the only reading charts available were for adults. There was also a ‘Thomas the Tank’ engine reading chart that she said is commonly used with children but is designed for a parent to read to a child, with the vocabulary deemed difficult for small children.

An example of the illustrations and characters in the Beardsworth Reading Chart.

“I asked around multiple suppliers and optometrists and was not able to find a simple reading chart for children. There are great near charts for measuring acuity such as Kay pictures, and the Beardsworth Reading Chart can complement these,” she said.

Beardsworth set out to develop her own children’s reading chart that needed to be engaging for small children.

The resource is double-sided. On one side it features an easy-to-read story comprising the “first hundred sight words” that children learn to read at school and should be familiar with.

Beardsworth said the text is a story about two children and repetition is used as a device as in most children’s books. The words are surrounded by illustrations of the characters in the story for context and the chart has a red border to keep attention on the page.

The second side has other options for testing near acuity, including single numbers, letters and pictures. The pictures have Snellen notation calibrated for when they chart is held at 33cm.

“The chart is designed to detect when small children have difficulty reading small font,” she said.

“It is a really useful tool to ascertain whether giving children a little bit of magnification in reading glasses will be helpful. You get the child to read the smallest font they can and put up +0.50DS in front of both eyes. If it is helpful, you will hear the child start to read more fluently or they may comment that it is easier to see. If they do not notice any difference, then reading glasses probably are not going to help.”

The chart is already in use in New Zealand optometry practices and receiving plaudits.

Ms Gina Partridge, a therapeutic optometrist with special interests in contact lenses and children’s vision, said she had been searching for a child friendly chart for a long time.

“The Beardsworth Reading Chart has been really useful for testing near vision for both children as well as non-English speaking adults as it is visually engaging and has a variety of testing options,” she said.The chart is designed for use among optometrists, dispensing opticians, orthoptists and ophthalmologists. It can be purchased from this website and is NZ$99 for one chart, and $249 for three charts.

This article originally appeared on Insight.

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