Visual impairments in kids and teens can be anything from vision that requires corrective glasses or contact lenses to partial or full blindness. In between these extremes are any number of “visual problems” or “visual handicaps” that can only be diagnosed by medical professionals. If you are concerned that your child or teen has a visual impairment, don’t delay in seeking diagnosis.
Signs and Symptoms of Visual Impairments
Depending on the severity of a visual impairment, a variety of signs and symptoms may be exhibited. You may notice that your child:
- Does not notice when lights or colours change nearby.
- Can only see objects very close by or very far away.
- Holds reading material very close.
- Chooses not to engage with reading material.
- Portrays poor handwriting.
- Experiences headaches.
- Consistently bumps into objects.
- Talks about blurry or double vision.
Speak with your child about his/her sight and ask if (s)he has ever experienced:
- Blurred vision.
- Cloudy vision.
- Double vision.
- Difficulty focusing on objects.
- A headache resulting from concentrating on objects or text.
- An inability to see colours.
- An inability to see anything to the side of them.
- Specks of colour or blackness floating through their vision.
- A total loss of vision.
Types of Visual Impairments
Many different types of visual impairments exist, each with their own treatment. Several common types of visual impairments include:
- Minor visual impairments corrected with glasses or contact lenses.
- Astigmatism, or an irregularly shaped cornea.
- “Partial sight” that requires special education.
- Crossed or turned eyes.
- “Low vision” that can not read text a normal distance from they eyes even with the help of corrective lenses.
- “Legal blindness” of less than 20/200 vision in their best eye, or an extremely limited field of vision.
- Blindness or a lack of vision which requires learning Braille and relying on other senses for information.
Scheduling an Eye Exam
For children under the age of five, a paediatrician or GP will most likely carry out an eye exam during routine check ups. Children entering school should have their eyes checked, and teens and adults should schedule eye exams every few years or if they begin to have vision problems. Anyone already wearing glasses or contact lenses should have a yearly eye exam. Visual impairments can only be properly diagnosed during an eye exam administered by an:
- Opthamologist – medical doctors who provide full eye care and can perform surgeries on the eyes.
- Optometrist – trained professionals who can evaluate vision, prescribe corrective lenses and diagnose and treat common eye disorders and certain diseases.
- Optician – a specialist who can evaluate vision and fill prescriptions for glasses and contact lenses.
Diagnosing a Visual Impairment
During an eye exam, several basic tests are carried out to determine levels of vision. Commonly used tests include:
- Retinoscopy – while the patient focuses on a point in the room, the examiner will shine a light in the eye to determine the way the light reflects.
- Refraction – the examiner will ask the patient to describe his/her vision using a number of corrective lenses until a prescription is fine tuned.
- Cover Test – the examiner will cover one eye and ask the patient to focus on an object in the room. As the cover is moved between the eyes, the examiner watches how much each eye must move when uncovered to focus on the object.
- Slit Lamp Examination – while the patient rests his/her chin on a small ledge, the examiner uses light and high powered lenses to exam each part of the eye.
- Glaucoma Test – while the patient’s chin is still rested, the examiner will squirt a small puff of air into the eye in order to calculate the eye’s resistance. This test is completely painless.
- Dilation – If needed, an examiner may administer dilation drops in order to dilate the eye’s pupils to get a better look at the inner workings of the eye.
Throughout an eye exam, parents and children should feel free to ask their questions to the examiner. At the end of the exam, a diagnosis will be made and advice given for how to correct or treat the visual impairment. Referral to a specialist may be made. If at any time you or your child is uncomfortable or confused by these procedures, be sure to voice your concerns and remember, it is your right to get a second opinion.