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Identifying Students with Visual Impairment: The Early Signs

written by: Stephanie Torreno • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 6/6/2012

Students with visual impairment may look like typical children, but early signs can indicate a problem. It's important to identify these signs at a young age in order to take advantage of early intervention. Learn the early signs of visual loss in children and what can be done for them in school.

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    Definition & Causes

    The term ‘visual impairment’ is used to describe any kind of vision loss, ranging from someone having no sight at all to someone who has partial vision loss. People who are legally blind have some vision, but have lost enough sight that it requires them to stand 20 feet from an object to see it as well as someone with perfect vision who could see it 200 feet away. Children who are visually impaired since birth have congenital blindness, which can have several causes. This type of blindness can be inherited or caused by an infection transmitted from the mother to the fetus during pregnancy.

    Conditions that can cause vision loss after birth include amblyopia, or reduced vision in an eye caused by lack of use of it in the first few years of life. Strabismus, or misalignment/crossing of the eyes, is a common cause of amblyopia. The condition happens when the brain begins ignoring messages sent by one of the misaligned eyes. Lazy eye also occurs when the brain may suppress images from the weaker eye and the vision in that eye stops developing normally.

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    Identification of Students with Visual Impairment

    Early identification is extremely important because early intervention will be most effective. Sometimes it is unclear whether a child has a vision problem or not. Physical signs of vision problems include eyelids drooping over one or both eyes, or eyelids that do not completely cover the eyes when the child closes them. If a child has a clear squint, has jerky eye movements, or has eyes that do not move together, parents should see a pediatric ophthalmologist. Other signs include:

    • Not looking at others in the eyes
    • Reaching in front of or beyond an object
    • Holding objects very close or very far to see them
    • Turning or tilting his head when he uses his eyes
    • Continuously pushing or poking his eyes
    • Looking above, below or off to one side of an object, rather than directly at it
    • Bumping into objects and having a lot or trouble seeing at night
    • Feeling for objects on the ground instead of looking with her eyes

    After the identification of visually impaired students under three, parents should begin working with an early childhood interventionist. Young children who are visually impaired are eligible for early intervention services, which can help a family through the child’s first few years of life. Early intervention for students with visual impairment is vital in enhancing social, physical, and intellectual development.

    When a child who is over three, he will qualify for special education services if the visual impairment impacts his education. Parents should contact their school district's special education office to locate services for their child. A child with visual impairment may qualify for services from teachers of students with visual impairment, an orientation and mobility specialist, a physical therapist, a speech therapist, or a psychologist, depending on individual needs. Children with visual impairment should also be provided with modifications and accommodations in an inclusive classroom.

References

  • Visual impairment. (2007).Retrived April 14, 2010, from kidshealth.org/teen/diseases_conditions/sight/visual_impairment.html
  • Signs of visual impairment.(2008). Retrieved April 14, 2010, from www.eyeway.org/informs/parenting/signs-of-visual-impairment.

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