If your child has a vision impairment, you'll come across a number of different professionals: some are there to provide support with your child’s health, others to support their education and life at home. This is a basic guide to some of the people you may meet.
A glossary of the professionals who can support your child
Your family doctor (also known as a GP or General Practitioner) is concerned with the general health of your child and can advise and arrange further examinations.
The paediatrician is a specialist in child health who will check the overall health of all newly born babies, and is usually based at the hospital or child development centre. You may also meet a paediatric neurologist who has particular expertise in how the brain works in very young children.
Ophthalmologists are specialist doctors based at the hospital. They have special qualifications and experience in eye disorders and in treating them with appropriate medicine and surgery. You may be referred to one to check that your child's eyes are healthy. Your GP may refer you to a child health or child development clinic where you may meet the community child health doctor or senior medical officer. She is specially trained in the development of very young children and in detecting problems which may need treatment.
The orthoptist usually works with the ophthalmologist at the hospital, but you may see them in a health clinic or visiting a school. They will test your child's sight, look at eye movements, assess how well both eyes work together and check for squints (turning eyes).
The optometrist or ophthalmic optician specialises in measuring your child's sight and may prescribe glasses. They can identify eye diseases and are base in a hospital or optician. The dispensing optician will help you choose frames and make sure they fit properly but cannot test your child's sight or prescribe glasses. It is important that if your child needs glasses, they are encouraged to wear them.
The health visitor who visits you at home is a trained nurse who routinely checks your child's health and development. They can be a great help and support to the whole family, offering advice and practical assistance. The health visitor will be able to help you contact doctors, hospitals and other services in your area.
Your local education authority (LEA) should have at least one QTVI to work with you and your child both at home and at school. These specialists are qualified teachers who have additional qualifications and experience in working with children with a visual impairment. This is a key contact for you and your child. If you have not already been referred from the eye clinic to your local QTVI, contact the RNIB Helpline on 0303 123 9999 to find the local service in your area to self-refer.
Some services for children who have visual impairment also have a mobility officer, sometimes called an Habilitation officer. They will be able to advise you on how to encourage your child to move around more independently and develop everyday living skills.
CYPF Co-ordinators are RNIB staff around the country who work with families, children and young people. They organise events and can give you support and advice. To find your local CYPF Co-ordinator, call our Helpline.
A SENCO is the staff member in a school who co-ordinates all the special educational needs provision. In smaller schools, the headteacher or deputy head might be the SENCO. SENCOs are responsible for education psychology, behaviour support and assessment of special educational needs.
A Learning Support Assistant or Teaching Assistant works alongside teachers in early years settings. They support individual children or small groups to help them learn effectively.
Your local social services or social work department may have a specialist social worker or rehabilitation worker for people with visual impairment, including children and their families. Social services staff can provide practical help and advice about counselling, transport, home helps, and other services. They may be able to help you with equipment at home and suggest lighting or décor to help children to locate door frames, walls and furniture more easily and to move about at home with more confidence. Rehabilitation workers teach mobility and daily living skills and will be able to answer some of your questions about sight loss.
The physiotherapist uses exercises and special equipment to help your child develop physically.
Speech and language therapists work with children with speech, language and communication difficulties and can also advise about strategies to support eating.
Occupational therapists work with children to develop their daily living activities such as washing, dressing etc. They can advise on what special equipment and adaptations your house needs in order to help your child become more independent.
Educational psychologists work with children who are having learning, behavioural or emotional difficulties. They will talk to your child and assess him as he plays in order to develop strategies to meet his educational needs.