Charity finds children with autism most likely to miss out on eye care

Post date: 
Thursday, 5 May 2016
Child taking sight test

A national sight loss and disability charity has found that 75 per cent of children with no history of eye care have Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). They are estimating over 33,000 children with ASD in England’s special schools could be missing out on routine eye care.

The alarming statistics come as MPs debate a motion on World Autism Awareness Week, following a bid from Cheryl GIllan MP, Conservative MP for Chesham and Amersham.
SeeAbility has been sight testing children in a number of special schools since 2013 and its second annual report reveals children with learning disabilities are 28 times more likely to have a serious sight problem. The report also exposes:
  • Over half of children tested had a vision problem
  • 43 per cent of pupils seen for the first time had no history of eye care
  • 85 per cent of those discharged from hospital eye clinics had no follow up community eye care
  • 36 per cent of children seen needed glasses
It follows SeeAbility’s 2015 Children in Focus Campaign launch, which revealed nearly four in ten children attending special schools in England have no history of eye care. After an additional year of sight testing behind them, the charity now says a large proportion of that group are children with ASD2.

Although every child in England is entitled to a free NHS sight test to pick up on any problems with vision and help prevent avoidable sight loss, many children with ASD can struggle to access community optical practices or hospital eye clinics where these sight tests are delivered. The environment or waiting time might be too stressful or overwhelming and parents may be worried that their child cannot cope.

With over half of children tested by SeeAbility having a vision problem, their sight testing model targets children at the highest risk of sight problems and brings eye care to the more convenient and familiar place of school. There are added benefits like providing glasses – including specialist frames – sharing strategies to help children get used to the new experience of wearing glasses and helping teachers to understand what a child can see in school.
SeeAbility is calling on the government and NHS England for a national programme to provide routine eye care for children in special schools across England. Because children with learning disabilities can be reliant on hospitals for more routine eye care or check-ups, the charity believes that their model could help ease some of the pressure on the NHS. 
“The simple fact is, while there are areas of good practice, this is not happening on a national scale. The SeeAbility sight testing model meets a recognised health inequality and reaches children who are unable to access community eye care and their right to a free NHS sight test. We would like to see a national programme that works for the child and builds the importance of vision into their education, giving them greater independence, a better education, and saving the NHS and care services money in the long run,” says Lisa Donaldson, Clinical Lead of the Children in Focus Campaign.

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