Visual Impairment

This information is for parents and carers of children or young people who have or are suspected to have a visual impairment.

Visual impairment is the term used to describe a loss of sight that cannot be corrected using glasses or contact lenses.  

You can find information for adults in our article Help and support with sight loss.

There are an estimated 40,950 children and young people up to the age of 25 with sight loss in the UK – approximately 25,870 of these are under 17. Most blind and partially sighted children are born with their vision impairment. At least 20 per cent have additional disabilities and/or special educational needs. 

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Signs and Symptoms of Visual Impairment 

The following lists some possible signs that your child may be experiencing difficulties with their vision 

  • constant eye rubbing or chronic eye redness 

  • extreme light sensitivity 

  • squinting, closing one eye, or misaligned eyes 

  • poor focusing or trouble following objects 

  • inability to see objects at a distance 

  • inability to read a whiteboard or blackboard, etc., or trouble reading 

  • eyes look cloudy  

  • one eye is bigger than the other, or the pupils are different sizes. 

  • you notice a change in how your child’s eyes usually look. 

  • your child seems to consistently tilt his head when he looks at things. 


Seeking referral for assessment 

If you feel that your child has visual difficulty an eye test will help to spot any problems such as long or short sightedness, lazy eyes or squints. You can make an appointment with an optician for a free NHS eye check. This is free for all children under the age of 16 and those young people under 19 who are in full time education.  

The School Nurse Service offers vision screening as part of the early years health checks delivered in primary schools.  All children in reception year (4-5 yr olds) are offered vision screening. Parents/carers are informed of the results and, if needed, advised to visit an opticians or referred to Orthoptist teams. 

Orthoptics is the study of sight and coordination in the eyes. Orthoptists are part of the wider ophthalmology healthcare team. Ophthalmologists are medically trained doctors who care for patients who have eye conditions. Both the school nursing team and opticians are able to refer on to these services, if necessary. 

Should you be concerned that your child has additional disabilities alongside their visual difficulties you can book an appointment with your GP who is able to refer you to another specialist . 


Support in Education 

If your child has a medically diagnosed visual impairment, they may need additional support to help them achieve their potential. You can raise any concerns with your child’s education setting and ask to speak to the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO). 

A referral may be made to the sensory support service who aim to promote the achievement, inclusion, well-being and quality of life of children and young people with a sensory impairment, whether that is hearing loss, sight loss or multisensory impairment.  

The sensory support service also shows what support they offer for children between birth to post 16 with a vision impairment  

There is further guidance for education settings that as a parent, you may find helpful to read.  

nasen has produced a practical guide Understanding the eye care and vision needs of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities to ensure all pupils with SEND attending mainstream and special schools are enabled to make the most of their vision.  


Help to get around 

Platinum Travelcard – is travel card is for residents of South Gloucestershire, who are severely sight impaired or sight impaired. 

 A child aged 5-11 can travel for free but their accompanying adult will pay, as it is expected that children of this age would not travel independently. A child aged 11+ can apply for a companion card which will allow themselves and one other person free travel. 

Guide Dogs for the Blind Association - provide several services for children and young people as well as breeding and training guide dogs. 

They have an advice line - 0800 781 1444 for more information and guidance for families with children with a vision impairment. If you are interested in applying for a guide dog the first step is to call the local office in the South West on 0345 143 0204. 


Further support and information 

There are a number of charities where you read or contact them for further information and support:    

Sight Support - Offer events and activities that provide visually impaired children access to opportunities and experiences they may otherwise struggle to access.   

Royal National Institute for the Blind provides a sight loss advice service offering practical and emotional support.  

Sense provide services for individuals who are deafblind and / or complex disabilities and has a base in Kingswood.  

Contact are a charity for families with disabled children. They support families with guidance and information.