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  • Writer's pictureCarina Lee

Vision and Special Needs

Dr. Carina Lee, March 29, 2022

If you are the parent of a child with special needs, you have probably come to the conclusion that nothing can adequately prepare you for this particular path.

According to public school data in the USA, up to 14% of all kids in public schools between the ages of 3 and 21 receive special education assistance. However, this percentage doesn't even take into account all children with special needs because many attend private schools.

There are many different special requirements among students in special education, which can generally be categorized into four groups:

  • Developmental — Down syndrome, autism, dyslexia, and processing disorders

  • Behavioral/Emotional — ADHD, mental health, or oppositional defiant disorder

  • Physical — Muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, chronic asthma, and epilepsy

  • Sensory Impaired — Blind, visually impaired, deaf, or hearing-impaired

Vision conditions and special needs

Did you know that 35 regions of the brain are involved in processing visual information, and that the visual system accounts for up to 80% of all sensory information that enters the brain?

This implies that a youngster may experience serious difficulties if they have a visual system impairment in any area.

Undiagnosed vision issues contribute to the reading and learning difficulties that affect up to 25% of all youngsters.

Due to the perception that their association behaviors are part of their special needs diagnosis, research also suggests that an even greater proportion of children with special needs may have undiagnosed eye issues.

It is vital that parents and other caregivers are aware of the significance of getting an eye exam for a kid with special needs in order to thoroughly evaluate both their eyesight and the health of the visual system.

Actually, the same vision issues that plague neurotypical children are more common in children with exceptional disabilities.

These visual problems may include:

  • Nearsightedness (myopia)

  • Farsightedness (hyperopia)

  • Eye turns (strabismus)

  • Eye focusing

  • Lazy eye (amblyopia)

  • Eye teaming and tracking

  • Binocular coordination (stereo vision)

  • Depth perception

  • Visual information-processing

Red flags of a vision condition

If you have a child with special needs it is crucial to be able to identify the red flags that may indicate a vision condition:

  • Omits/skips/repeats small words or lines when reading

  • Holds reading material too close

  • Tilts head/closes one eye when reading

  • Reduced visual attention or avoids reading all together

  • Avoids near work

  • Poor reading comprehension

  • Difficulty copying from board

  • One eye turns in or out (Strabismus)

  • Unable to listen and look at same time

  • Messy handwriting

  • Visual perceptual problems

  • Clumsy or prone to tripping

  • Unusual neck and body postures

  • Motion sickness

  • Uncontrolled eye shaking (Nystagmus)

If any of these red flags sounds like your child, contact an eye doctor near you to detect any vision conditions your child may have.

How do vision problems impact daily life for children with special needs?

Children with special needs frequently exhibit certain behaviors that may be mistaken for symptoms of their individual diagnoses, but in reality, visual issues can either create or aggravate behaviors that are typical of children with special needs.

Vision issues can exacerbate a child's difficulties by influencing behavior, hindering reading and learning abilities, and impairing performance on daily tasks.

Make an appointment for an eye test to examine your child's eyesight and make sure they don't have any unidentified vision issues.

Eye exams for children with special needs

Special equipment may be needed to offer the correct prescription for children with special needs because many of them have impaired visual acuity or may even be non-verbal. Children with special needs typically have higher optical prescriptions.

A developmental vision screening is typically necessary for a thorough evaluation of children with special needs in order to assess the integrity of visual abilities.

Corrective eyewear and/or a tailored vision treatment program will be advised if diminished vision or visual skills are found. To get the best treatment outcomes and help kids realize their full potential, early diagnosis of vision issues is crucial.

Eyeglasses for children with special needs

Youngsters' eyeglasses with special characteristics are made to meet the distinctive face features of some children with specific requirements.

For instance, kids with Down syndrome may have trouble getting glasses fitted because of the way their faces are structured. However, with custom-made eyeglasses, the nose bridge may be altered to fit the wearer's nose and the temples can be changed to prevent the glasses from slipping down all the time. Lightweight polymers and flexible materials are also used in frame designs.

Hi-index lenses, photochromatic lenses, and bifocal designs are just a few of the many optical lens alternatives that are available for the best possible comfort and vision.

While vision therapy or the use of eyeglasses won't resolve every problem a child with special needs faces, they can assist in treating underlying visual issues that are a contributing factor in some undesirable symptoms and behaviors.

Vision therapy for children with special needs

Vision therapy is a successful approach to enhance the visual abilities required to attain clear and comfortable vision, according to extensive research and clinical studies.

Each therapy program is completely tailored to the child's needs in order to improve and develop visual abilities and retrain the visual system to process visual data more accurately and easily. Vision therapy enhances the brain-eye connection and the efficient operation of the child's visual system; it goes beyond simple eye exercises.

The aim of vision therapy is to enhance the skills necessary for clear and comfortable vision, such as:

  • Eye-tracking

  • Eye teaming

  • Focusing

  • Hand-eye coordination

  • Visual processing speed

As part of the training program, vision therapy may include lenses, prisms, filters, occluders, and other tools. Modern computer-based therapies and modern technology, such vision therapy apps, have transformed conventional vision therapy exercises into enjoyable and engaging activities in recent years.

With the help of vision therapy, your child with special needs will be able to comprehend their environment more clearly, which will improve related behaviors like anxiety, social skills, and language ability.

How can your child with special needs benefit from eye care?

Children with special needs face a variety of difficulties that can make academic and other goals appear nearly insurmountable.

However, these youngsters will have a better chance of achieving what their relatives may have believed was unachievable if underlying vision issues are identified and treated. Eye care, such as eyeglasses and/or vision therapy, can improve learning outcomes and the simplicity of daily chores, reducing the difficulties that both you as the parent and your child must deal with on a regular basis.

Make an appointment for your child to undergo a thorough eye exam that will assess both their vision and visual skills if they have special needs and exhibit behaviors that could indicate a vision issue.

Your child's vision can be improved with a correct diagnostic and treatment plan, giving them comfortable and clear vision that will enhance their quality of life.

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