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.
Who does what in eye care?
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.
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 diagnosing eye conditions and treating these eye conditions, often referring on to optometrists and orthoptists for low vision support. In some cases, they may also recommend a particular medication plan or surgery.
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 based 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.
ECLOs act as an important bridge between health and social services and are central to the support and wellbeing of patients in eye clinics. You can make an appointment to see an ECLO after an eye health appointment, and they will spend time helping you to understand your child’s vision impairment, communicate with the eye clinic, and access services for ongoing support.
Find out more about Eye Care Liaison Officers (ECLOs)
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.
A QTVI is a qualified teacher who has additional qualifications and experience in working with children with a visual impairment. They are employed by the local authority’s Children’s Sensory Services and work with children in a number of different schools in the area. Your local authority should have at least one QTVI to work with you and your child both at home and at school. 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.
Some services for children with vision impairments also have a mobility officer, sometimes called a Habilitation officer. They will be able to advise on how to encourage your child to move around more independently and develop everyday living skills, and will eventually work with your child on road-crossing, using public transport and other similar skills.
All schools will have a staff member who coordinates all the special educational needs provisions. In smaller schools, the headteacher or deputy's head might be this staff member. This staff member is responsible for arranging assessments of special educational needs from other professionals and coordinating the recommended provisions.
In England, this role may be called a Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCo). In Northern Ireland this role may be a SENCo or a Learning Support Coordinator. In Wales, this role may be an Additional Learning Needs Co-ordinator (ALNCo). In Scotland, a member of the Senior Leadership Team of a nursery, school or college will have responsibility for learners with Additional Support Needs (ASN).
A Learning Support Assistant or Teaching Assistant (sometimes coming under other job titles depending on the country and education setting) works alongside teachers in educational settings from early years through to university. They support individual children or small groups to help them learn effectively within the class or school.
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 help, and other services such as carer’s assessments. They may advise you on equipment at home and suggest lighting, colours, or other environmental adjustments to help your child locate door frames, walls and furniture more easily, and to move about at home with more confidence. They may also be able to support with applying for grants if they are unable to fund equipment in their own budgets. Rehabilitation workers may teach mobility and daily living skills and will be able to answer some of your questions about your child’s eye condition.
A physiotherapist uses exercises and special equipment to help your child develop physically. This may be important if your child has posture needs due to the way they look at objects or focus on certain tasks.
Speech and language therapists (SALTs) work with children with speech, language and communication difficulties and can also advise about strategies to support eating.
Occupational therapists (OT’s) 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. They may also advise you on equipment at home and suggest lighting, colours, or other environmental adjustments to help your child locate door frames, walls and furniture more easily, and to move about at home with more confidence.
Educational psychologists work with children who are having learning, behavioural or emotional difficulties. They will talk to your child and assess them as they play, learn, and interact with others in order to develop strategies to meet their educational, social, and emotional needs.
CYPF Support Officers are RNIB staff around the country who work with families, children and young people. They organise events and can give you support and advice on any area of life to do with vision impairment. To find your local CYPF Support Officer, email [email protected].
You can find out more about an eye condition and maintaining good eye health using our information on your eyes
We’ve got some parent specific advice on Finding out about your child's eye condition
You may also be interested in reading our Guide to eye clinic appointments
Take a look at our other resources around diagnosis and emotional wellbeing for children: Understanding your child’s vision
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 email us at [email protected] or call us on 0303 123 9999.