Finding out about your child's eye condition

It can be difficult to find out the cause of a sight problem. However, you need to know how much your child can see and how they use their sight.

What the hospital or clinic can tell you about your child’s vision impairment

Your child's sight problem could have a number of causes, so making an exact diagnosis might be difficult. Many sight problems are caused by something wrong with the eye. However, sometimes the brain doesn't translate images properly. In some children, there is a problem with both the eye and the brain. In that case, getting glasses or contact lenses can still help your child to get the best image they can.

Your child's ophthalmologist (hospital consultant specialising in eye conditions) will work to find out how much your child can see and what causes the sight problem. Don't forget to ask questions or jot down notes during the consultation if you need to.

When you get a diagnosis, see our eye health section for more information about common eye conditions. For rarer diseases, see our page on rare eye conditions.

It's possible to do eye tests even with very young children, where all the child has to do is look at a picture. It's a good idea to ask around to find a child-friendly optometrist in your area.

Finding out how much your child can see in the classroom

If your child has some vision, teachers need to know how much your child can see (this is call functional vision). They need to present information in the best way for your child to make use of any remaining vision.

You can play an important part in this process. Share what you know about how your child responds to visual stimuli (for instance lights and different colours). You could also mention if they seem to view things more easily on one side or the other.

The qualified teacher of visually impaired children (QTVI) may be able to do tests to check how your child uses their sight in everyday situations. These "functional vision assessments" aren't one-offs - they'll be done on an ongoing basis. See education and learning which gives you lots of information about school life and support for your child.

If your child has just been diagnosed, you may be wondering what to do next. See Your child and vision impairment – first steps.

Understanding the terms describing your child’s vision impairment

Here are some of the terms that ophthalmologists or teachers may use to describe what's causing your child’s vision impairment :

  • Functional vision – how your child uses their sight in everyday situations.
  • Ocular visual impairment – this means that sight problems are caused by one or more parts of the eyes not functioning properly.
  • Cortical or cerebral visual impairment (CVI) – this is when there is nothing wrong with the eyes, but the brain doesn't process the images properly. This is common for children who have multiple disabilities or complex needs.
  • Combinations – some children may have a bit of both; a combination of CVI and ocular visual impairment. If that's the case, your child may need glasses or contact lenses to make sure they get the best image they can.
  • If your child only has CVI, then glasses or contact lenses probably won't be helpful. Get the professional's advice on other ways to help your child make the most of whatever sight they have.