SeeAbility is fighting for children in special schools to get an equal right to sight

The charity SeeAbility is fighting for children in special schools to get an equal right to sight.

Their campaign, Children in Focus, carries out specialist sight tests for children who have visual disorders. Many visual disorders can be caused by brain injury.

SeeAbility eyetest
Children with learning disabilities and brain injury are far more likely to suffer from a sight problem than other children. To quote Alison Salt and Jenefer Sargent: “Visual disorders are particularly increased in children born preterm, children who have suffered brain damaging events with subsequent learning difficulty and/or cerebral palsy and children who have congenital cerebral anomalies or other genetic syndromes that may predispose to ocular anomalies.” Unfortunately a large percentage of those children find it hard to communicate that they might be having problems with their sight. They might also be non-verbal and rely on their eyes to make choices and connect with those around them. Children that attend special schools have countless health appointments that they need to attend - appointments that can be incredibly stressful and lead to challenging behaviour. Parents can often (understandably) feel overwhelmed, which pushes a sight test down the pecking order of priorities. It may be hard to find a suitable practice with optometrists who are experienced in testing children with learning disabilities and hospital eye clinics are not always the right place for something that should be routine. There are over 100,000 children in special schools across the country and they are simply not getting the eye care they need. Sight is very important to a child’s learning and development, and early eye care can prevent more serious sight problems later on. Often all that’s required is a well-fitted pair of glasses or a simple explanation of how a child is using their vision. SeeAbility eyetest
So, what does SeeAbility do to help? Our team visit eight special schools and carry out specialist sight tests for children who opt in to our Children in Focus project, and we’ve been doing that since October 2013. We have found that four in ten of the children we have seen have never had any eye care and are able to test these children even if they cannot read or communicate, just by just shining a light into their eye. Our sight testing model takes the service to the children in their schools - a familiar and convenient place. With glasses dispensing included, there are no long waits for glasses that may or may not fit. It also means they can be fixed and repaired quickly. For children it means less days out of school. For parents it means less time taken off work to take their child to appointments. There are even regular sing-alongs to favourite tunes during our eye tests! I want to tell you about a teenager in one of the schools we work in with cognitive impairment - following a brain tumour in early childhood. She is very long-sighted with astigmatism. With her glasses she can see well and is able to identify letters of a size which indicates a good level of vision.  But without her glasses she has a level of vision that would make her eligible for registration as severely sight impaired. Until SeeAbility came to her school, she was seen regularly at a hospital eye clinic to keep her glasses up to date. The problem is, she gets so upset going to hospital eye clinics that mum has to arrange for her siblings to come, just so she thinks it’s a family outing and will experience less anxiety. Brain injuries can cause many different visual difficulties from total blindness in the most severe case to any of the following which may occur alone or in combination:
  • Difficulties with controlling eye movement, for example involuntary shaking of the eyes (nystagmus) which will cause blurring of vision
  • Not being able to move the eyes to look at a target
  • Not being able to follow a moving target with the eyes
  • Not being able to move the eyes accurately from one target to another or very slow eye movement
Children with brain injury can also have difficulties with processing visual information - often known as Cerebral Visual Impairment (CVI). The eyes are healthy but the brain has problems processing visual information. It can lead to:
  • Blurred vision
  • Difficulty with recognising objects/faces
  • Not being able to ‘make sense’ of visual information
  • Difficulty seeing moving objects
  • Only being able to see half of the visual field (hemianopia)
  • Difficulty picking out objects in a cluttered environment
  • Difficulty with depth perception
  • Variable vision -including significant deterioration with tiredness.
SeeAbility eyetestOur Clinical Lead on the Children in Focus project and fantastic optometrist, Lisa Donaldson, has some great tips and strategies to help children with vision disorders. “Ideally everything should be tailored to the individual but as a general rule keep visual information uncluttered, as large as possible, of good contrast and allow plenty of time for a child to respond or process visual information,” Lisa told me.  “It’s important that in cases of nystagmus or loss of part of the visual field, a child or a visual target should be positioned with this taken into consideration wherever possible. As visual problems are of such high incidence in cases of brain injury, a thorough specialist eye examination at least annually is always recommended.” We will continue to do all we can to get specialist sight tests available in every special school. In the meantime, please support SeeAbility’s Children in Focus Campaign and hopefully soon, children with learning disabilities or brain injury will get the eye care they deserve. To find out more, visit https://www.seeability.org/children-in-focus
Nick Pryce, Media Communications Officer    
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