January 7, 2005

Greater convenience, frequency give boost to low-vision program

Featured Image

Jeffrey Sonsino, O.D., examines eight-year-old patient Michael Gene Ward Jr. in the low vision clinic at Vanderbilt.
photo by Dana Johnson

Greater convenience, frequency give boost to low-vision program

Vanderbilt's program for low-vision patients, Project PAVE (Providing Access to the Visual Environment), is entering a new dimension that will allow the unique, multidisciplinary program to more frequently serve a larger percentage of Middle Tennessee's children, ages 3-21, who have low vision.

Previously, patients receiving services from Project PAVE were treated primarily at The Tennessee School for the Blind. After centralizing services, patients are now being seen on a weekly basis on the Vanderbilt campus and are also treated at the School for the Blind's large clinics a few times a year.

Under the direction of Jeffrey Sonsino, O.D., associate in Ophthalmology, Project PAVE's patients now have services more conveniently centralized, and the clinics unique visual services are now offered with much greater frequency.

Low vision is eyesight in the range of 20/70 to 20/8000 that cannot be corrected to within normally accepted limits with standard vision aids such as glasses or contact lenses. People with visual acuity of 20/200 or worse, or with a visual field of 20 degrees or less, are classified as legally blind though they may possess some sight.

Project PAVE began in 1994 under the direction of Anne L. Corn, Ed.D., professor of Special Education and Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, and evolved into one of the nation's leading programs assisting low-vision patients. Corn remains with PAVE in the role of director, working to coordinate educational components of the program.

“The children in Tennessee have much better access to low-vision therapy because we now offer a clinic here each week,” Sonsino said. “The clinic focuses solely on pediatric low vision. Also, we now have the power and resources of all the equipment and diagnostic services here at Vanderbilt Medical Center behind us. Previously, we didn't have these services readily available because we were conducting the PAVE clinic at the Tennessee School for the Blind.”

Earlier this year Sonsino's unique low-vision services were the focus of a flattering TV news story that achieved national distribution. Since then Sonsino has received calls from parents around the country seeking care for their children who have low vision.

Sonsino and the PAVE team still treat some patients at The Tennessee School for the Blind during a few special clinics during the year. These clinics are specially staffed by VUMC's optometrists as well as low-vision educational specialists from the University of Houston, who come periodically to help Sonsino meet the demands of these special clinics.

“There are approximately six programs around the country working with pediatric low-vision patients, but none as comprehensive as this one,” Sonsino said. “What makes our program effective is that training for the use of optical devices goes beyond the clinic and out into the schools. Our therapists even train the teachers who work with the children every day on what to expect and how to be the most effective.”

With PAVE, a patient's teacher is invited to the clinic along with the patient's parents to meet and work with clinic staff to learn to maximize benefits of the optical device prescribed to a child. Additionally, a major component of PAVE is three education coordinators from Peabody College, specializing in treating individuals with low sight, who travel around the state working directly in the classroom with the patients and their teachers to establish an optimal environment for learning.

Sonsino wants pediatricians at VUMC, and other pediatricians from across the state, to know the PAVE clinic can now meet the growing demand for these highly specialized services.

For more information about PAVE please call toll free 1-877-269-6294.