It can be difficult to find out the cause of your child’s eye condition.

If possible, it is important 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 eye condition could have a number of causes, so making an exact diagnosis might be difficult. Many eye conditions are caused by something specific to the eye. However, sometimes the brain doesn't translate images properly. In some children, there is a problem with the eye, the pathway to 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. If you can’t find it, you may be able to find further information on the Scottish sensory centre’s page.

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 vision impairment – Meaning one or more parts of the eyes are not functioning properly.

  • Cortical or cerebral vision impairment (CVI) – this is when there may not be a difficulty 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 both; a combination of CVI and ocular visual impairment.

  • If your child only has CVI, then glasses or contact lenses may not be helpful. Get the professional's advice on other ways to help your child make the most of whatever sight they have.

  • Visual acuity – This is a measure of how sharp/clear your child’s vision is. They may check this by using a Snellen or LogMAR chart which has the letters decreasing in size as you go down the chart or they may use Kays pictures if your child is younger or has additional needs. You may notice their vision is recorded as something like 6/24 or 0.6. This example would mean that during the test your child could see at 6 metres what someone with full sight could see at 24 metres.

  • Visual Field – This is the total area of what your child can see from looking at a fixed point without moving their head. You may be told your child has better vision on a certain side/area of their visual field. This is helpful to know. For further links to information on CVI check out CVI Scotland's website.

Further Support

Our team of regionally based Children, Young People and Family Support Officers are here to help. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, or you’d like to talk further about any of the above, then please get in touch with us by emailing [email protected] or calling us on 0303 123 9999.