During these past few weeks, I have mainly been working and attempting to coordinate and pack for my move into a new apartment. I’ve also had opportunities to explore more of Boston and experience a few crucial aspects of summer here. However, I’m going to wait to fill you in on all of these things until my next post.
A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be able to participate in the most powerful vision screening experience I have been involved in thus far. NECO students in Boston for the summer were given the opportunity to participate in vision screenings at the Massachusetts Special Olympics, held at Harvard Stadium in Cambridge. I’ve been trying to take advantage of any screening opportunities I hear about this summer, and I felt that the chance to volunteer at the Special Olympics was particularly important. I actually knew very little about the event prior to my participation; I hadn’t anticipated the Special Olympics to take place on such a large scale, or to have the concept of healthy living to be so integrated into the festivities.
When I arrived in Cambridge, I immediately recognized how intricately the events had been planned and how many different athletic activities were represented, from weightlifting to gymnastics to volleyball to track and field. In addition to the various sports that were represented, the Special Olympics also had been working on a “Healthy Athletes” initiative that we optometry students were able to be part of; dental students were present as well to perform dental screenings, and people were handing out salads and healthy crackers for athletes and volunteers.
Since I have only completed one year of optometry school so far, I haven’t yet learned about the different eye disorders associated with certain kinds of developmental disabilities; for example, that, as we discussed during the screenings, Down’s Syndrome can often be associated with ocular problems such as refractive error, astigmatism, weak accommodation, nystagmus, and eye infections. Participating in screenings at the Special Olympics gave me the chance to learn that there is a higher prevalence of eye disorders among the athletes of the Special Olympics in general and consequently a high demand for eye care.
After helping to organize our tent for the vision screenings, we divided into pairs to screen the athletes. We were able to see a wide variety of visual disorders, like nystagmus, strabismus, and high refractive error, but the most significant part of the screenings wasn’t the added clinical knowledge—it was getting the opportunity to speak with the athletes. The first athlete I screened was running in several track events later in the day, and when I asked if he thought he would win, he replied that since he had won all of his events last year, he absolutely expected to win them again today. I spoke to another athlete who had won a silver medal in swimming that morning and was anticipating another medal from his next race. I talked to a few more athletes who were also running track, another swimmer, and a few volleyball players, and I was extremely impressed with the positive outlook they all had on their participation in the Special Olympics. Many of them expected to win, or had already won medals earlier in the day, but even those who had suffered a loss were extremely proud of their accomplishments and glad to be a part of the event.
I found my screening experience at the Special Olympics to be not only a learning opportunity, but a source of inspiration. I am continually learning about different eye disorders and the needs of differing populations, but I am also learning more about how to interact with patients and how knowing more about their lives and interests can make me a better and more relatable clinician. I would highly recommend the screening experience to any NECO students who will be in Boston next summer or who have a Special Olympics that takes place in their hometown, and I am very grateful that I was able to be a part of such an inspirational event.