Understanding the diagnosis, getting the right help and being an advocate in school are critical.
If you’ve noticed that your baby or child isn’t seeing normally (or a doctor or teacher has alerted you), you are certainly not alone. One in 20 preschoolers and one in four school-age children have vision problems, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
The issues of having a special needs child cross over many disabilities and include taking care of yourself, talking to friends and relatives about the issue and most importantly, being a strong supporter for your child. In this article, we’ll deal with the specific concerns of children who are visually impaired and how you can help most.
Types of Visual Impairments
It is important to get your child’s vision checked immediately if you suspect something is wrong. That’s because so much of the way we learn is visual. Children with visual impairments often must learn differently, using their other senses of touching, listening, smelling, tasting and moving, plus whatever vision they have, according to the Center for Parent Information & Resources.
Your child’s visual disability may range from mild to severe. According to Webmd.com, these are the most common types of vision problems children have:
- Nearsightedness (myopia) is difficulty seeing distant objects. Glasses or contacts are usually the solution.
- Farsightedness (hyperopia) is difficulty focusing on close objects. Glasses or contacts usually help.
- Astigmatism is a flaw in the curvature of the cornea, causing problems focusing. Glasses are usually recommended.
- Strabismus is when the eyes are out of alignment. Patching the eye can help or surgery may be recommended.
- Amblyopia or “lazy eye” means vision in one eye is reduced. Patching or eye drops usually are recommended.
- Ptosis is drooping of the upper eyelid and often requires surgery.
- Cortical visual impairment is a result of a brain issue (not enough oxygen to brain during birth, a brain injury or infections like encephalitis or meningitis). This can lead to temporary or permanent vision impairment and blindness.
- Retinopathy of prematurity occurs in premature or low birth-weight babies and can mean permanent vision impairment or blindness.
- Albinism (the genetic condition affecting pigment of skin) can cause vision problems.
- Genetically transmitted visual impairments, such as infantile cataracts (cloudy lens) or congenital glaucoma (damaged optic nerve) run in families and can cause vision loss.
What You Should Do
Here’s a checklist of general steps to help your visually impaired child:
- Learn everything you can about your child’s particular condition, options for treatment and education.
- Understand that your child may learn differently—and sometimes more slowly—because s/he is receiving information in a different way than children who can see clearly.
- Adapt your home to make it safe and functional for someone with vision loss.
- Encourage your child’s independence by letting him or her do things themselves instead of doing it for them.
- Build a support system including medical professionals, educators, family, friends and other parents of visually impaired children.
- If your toddler or young child needs glasses, make sure you get ones from a reputable eye doctor that fit properly and don’t pinch. Have the child wear them for short periods of time at first and make the glasses part of the routine (put on in the morning, take off at bath and bedtime). Be patient.
- Get help. The National Association of Parents of Children with Visual Impairments, part of the American Federation for the Blind, offers referral and support services in most states.
For children under 3, support is available through the federal Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities. This program helps states set up early intervention initiatives. The state programs are usually housed in education, health, human services or rehabilitation departments and will provide you referrals to local programs.
Under the American Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, visually impaired children in public schools are entitled to support for any learning disabilities or concerns because of their disability. But parental involvement is often needed. Most children who are blind or visually impaired attend regular public schools but there are special schools available for children with visual disabilities. There are also schools for the blind that offer summer camps and recreational activities specifically aimed at children with significant visual impairments.
In the school or daycare system, experts recommend:
- Being in constant contact with your child’s teachers and administrators and making sure s/he is getting the right accommodations.
- Getting a second opinion from a learning specialist if you don’t think your child is thriving.
- Ensuring your school or daycare center (and your home) has appropriate books with either Braille or larger images (depending on the visual disability). Visually impaired children should not be denied the joy and importance of reading.
Written by Barbara Frankel for Working Mother and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.