Visual impairment is a loss of vision that ranges from mild to total vision loss. Some children are born with a vision loss and others have vision loss as a result of eye disorders. Examples of eye disorders include retinal degeneration, albinism, cataracts, glaucoma and muscular problems. Other eye conditions include Nystagmus, Amblyopia, Retinopathy of Prematurity, and Optic Nerve Atrophy.
According to the American Foundation of the Blind, there are approximately 25, 000 children that have been identified with visual impairments through the U.S. Department of Education. This number does not account for children who are not receiving services through state and federally funded program and those children with multiple handicapping conditions. There are four terms related to visual impairment that are important to be familiar with.
- “Partially sighted” refers to the child having some vision, but the child will need accommodations, adaptations, and support for learning.
- “Low Vision” refers to a severe vision loss that may include distance vision and close vision. These children will have difficulty reading print at the normal viewing distance. They typically will need visual equipment and enlarged print. Children with low vision may wear glasses, but not be able to see without additional visual support.
- “Legally Blind” refers to vision loss that is less than 20/200 in the better eye or very limited field of vision (20 degrees at its widest point).
- “Totally Blind” refers to a vision loss that will require the use of braille or other non-visual media.
Children with visual impairments will require specialized instruction and/or materials. It is important for children to be identified early to enhance their opportunities to explore their environment, develop social skills that are typically imitated through observation of parents and others, and to gain access to academic instruction with support and adaptations. The American Foundation for the Blind reports that children with visual impairments must become skilled in the following areas:
- Technology and computer proficiency
- Literacy- reading and writing via large print or braille
- Safe independent mobility- use of mobility and orientation strategies, mobility devices such as a cane.
- Social interaction skills
- Personal management and independent living skills
The following strategies are helpful with children with visual impairments:
- Make sure the child can see the teacher’s materials.
- Have enlarged text or Braille during the lesson.
- Speak in a normal voice.
- Say the child’s name when trying to gain his attention and identify yourself.
- Do not avoid words such as “see” and “look.”
- Do not grab the child to direct him. You may offer your arm or walk slightly ahead of the child.
- Let the child know that you are finished talking to him rather than walking off.
There are a variety of organizations to support families and children with visual impairment. It is essential for families to learn about the supports and services available to families through affiliations with organizations specializing in visual impairments.