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Finding out about your child's vision impairment

Children and young people can be affected by several medical conditions affecting their vision. The same diagnosis can also affect vision in different individuals in different ways.

If possible, it is important to know how much your child can see and how they use their vision. This knowledge can help to make sure that your child has the best opportunity to make use of any residual vision and to provide the best support, as and when it's needed.

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

Your child's vision impairment could have a number of causes and it is possible that your child is affected by more than one medical condition, for example glaucoma and cataracts. Many medical conditions are caused by something specific to the eye or the nerve between the eye and the brain, however, sometimes the eyes can be fine but the brain doesn't translate the images it receives properly.

Your child's ophthalmologist (hospital consultant specialising in eye conditions) will work to find out how much your child can see. Don't forget to ask questions or jot down notes during the consultation if you need to. When you get a diagnosis, you can find out more information about common vision impairments in our eye health section. 

For rarer conditions, see our page on rare eye conditions.

It’s possible to do eye tests even with very young children, where all the child must do is look at a picture, however it might take a few visits to the hospital before your ophthalmologist can give you a reliable estimate of your child’s vision. This might mean you go to get new glasses a few times too, and it's a good idea to ask around to find a child-friendly optometrist in your area.

You may also be interested in reading our Guide to eye clinic appointments

You can also find out more about the professionals supporting you and what they do on Who does what in eye care?

Take a look at our other resources around diagnosis and emotional wellbeing for children: Understanding your child’s vision

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 called functional vision). They need this information presented in the best way for your child to make use of any remaining vision while in the education setting.

You 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.

If your child has a vision impairment, it is essential that a Qualified Teacher of Vision Impairment (QTVI) is involved in supporting their growth and development and planning access to education. A QTVI is based within a local authority sensory support team and will provide support on a visiting (peripatetic) basis, firstly at home, then into nursery and school up until university or work. Your child should be referred to a local QTVI from the hospital eye clinic when they are diagnosed. The QTVI can provide support from birth and may do tests to check how your child uses their vision in everyday situations. These functional vision assessments will be done on an ongoing basis as your child grows and changes environments.

Find out more about education and learning. 

If your child has just been diagnosed, you may be wondering what to do next. Take a look at our other resources around diagnosis and emotional wellbeing for children: Understanding your child’s vision

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. For further links to information on CVI check out CVI Scotland's website, or visit The Cerebral Visual Impairment Society
  • 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.
  • Certificate of Vision Impairment (CVI) – this will be issued if your child’s vision levels meet certain criteria in the visual acuity and visual field assessments. The CVI acronym can sometimes be confused with Cerebral or Cortical Vision Impairment so you may need to be clear which is being used. Find out more about the criteria for certification.

Further support

Our team of regionally based Children, Young People and Family Support Officers is 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.