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testing, testing

Posted Nov 02 2009 10:00pm
I've come home for a break between shifts volunteering at the Lion's Club vision and hearing screenings at my son's middle school.

Am I the only one who finds it perverse that the two things I've volunteered to do this year are for Donut Day sales and this health screening?

The Donut Day stuff cracks me up, because we've got this simultaneous dual message going on in the schools: Don't be fat! Buy a box of donuts! Don't eat junk food! School spirit equals eating donuts! Fun equals donuts! Don't eat! Eat! I am the only mom who isn't making comments about guilt and my backside and eating the whole box and skipping dinner. With every donut I say "Enjoy!"

The vision and hearing screening interests me, too. I hate to think that I'm volunteering in search of blog posts, but it is impossible to sit at the screening table and watch these young kids getting their eyes and ears checked and not compare it to the weight screening that also goes on in some schools. (Not ours. Over my dead BMI.) These kids are nervous as they approach the table, it's crowded in the trailer and the kids are self-conscious. They don't want to get it "wrong" and you can tell they think others are judging. They whisper their answers. They don't know which way to go, they confuse right and left. Poor dears.

One girl an hour ago looked close to tears as the Lion's Club guy came and did a re-check, asking me at full volume (he wears a hearing aid) "did she get those all wrong?" Then taking her sheet and telling her she can go now - without explaining what was wrong or how anyone would follow up.

I remember once my daughter heard the dentist say her molar development was "immature." She was crushed. We should be careful.

One girl didn't get all the numbers right and gushed "I just don't want to get GLASSES." I looked at her - through my glasses - and assured her they were fun.

One boy sat down ready to rumble: "I only missed two last time." "It's not a competition" I said.

Kids want to do well, and they don't want to look different or weird to their peers. Even a vision/hearing screening can be worrying and chaotic. The screeners are not necessarily reassuring and polite or thoughtful (I am, I hope, but some people are insensitive or dismissive. Others are sitting there worried about being judged by the other adults in the room - the testing procedure is tough to get a hang of. We got five minutes of training before the kids started filing in, and 'mistakes were made.'

I was, quite consciously, thinking of body mass/weight/fitness testing in schools as I was doing this - thinking about how I do help with one and would never with the other. The biggest difference, of course, is that the stigma of having poor vision or hearing is nothing compared to that of weight. The second is that vision and hearing screening can actually lead to health interventions that are real and helpful (there are no weight interventions for children, nor do we really know whether weight tells us much about health).

The greatest difference is this: telling a child she needs glasses won't lead her to do dangerous things to her eyes, or cause her to blame herself. That boy who beats the hearing test isn't going to be told he should be proud of himself for giving himself superior ears.

I'm going back now for another session. I feel especially gentle and careful to these little souls with their health sheets - for reasons they don't even know.

I like donut day better, even with its mixed messages.

** I'm back. Yes, there were some kids who come through there and clearly no one knew they could barely see with one eye or that they lacked peripheral vision. Yet on reflection I've decided these screenings aren't a good idea. Health measures shouldn't be done in a public assembly line, and amateurs shouldn't be doing the screening.
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