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Visual impairment ‘may affect 1 in 30 children’

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Every class of 30 children will have at least one who suffers from a brain-related visual impairment

A brain-related visual impairment may affect one in every 30 children, new research has revealed.

In a study of Cerebral Visual Impairment (CVI), which was thought to be rare, University of Bristol researchers have found it is more commonplace than previously accepted.

The study, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), investigated how many school-aged children may have undiagnosed brain-related vision problems.

Information was collected about 2,298 children aged five to 11 across 12 schools using teacher and parent questionnaires. They invited over ten per cent of the children (262 pupils) for a detailed assessment using validated tests to identify children with brain-related visual problems suggestive of CVI.

The team, from the University’s Medical School, found that based on their results, on average, every class of 30 children, would have one or two children with at least one brain-related vision problem.

They found no single problem was most common and the difficulties observed included problems with eye movements, visual field, recognition of objects and seeing things in clutter.

The team also found that children who were struggling with their learning and were already being given extra help at school, were more likely to have brain-related vision problems – four in every ten children with support for special educational needs had one or more brain-related vision problems, whilst for all children it was only about three in 100.

Researchers said they hope the study helps to raise awareness of CVI among parents and teachers, and can help them identify signs of the condition earlier.

“While this does not prove that these kind of vision problems are the cause of the difficulties with learning for any particular child, it does suggest that attending to children’s visual needs, such as making things bigger or less cluttered, might be a good place to start,” says Dr Cathy Williams, the study’s lead author and Associate Professor in Paediatric Ophthalmology at Bristol Medical School.

“While this does not prove that these kind of vision problems are the cause of the difficulties with learning for any particular child, it does suggest that attending to children’s visual needs, such as making things bigger or less cluttered, might be a good place to start.

“If interventions can work to reduce the impact of these problems on children’s learning, it might improve both educational and wellbeing outcomes for children.”

Brain-related vision problems include difficulties with moving the eyes, seeing things in their visual field, and recognising objects accurately and quickly.

While eye chart tests check how well a person can see the details of a letter or symbol from a specific distance, these visual acuity diagnostic assessments miss many children with CVI, whose acuity is normal or near-normal.

The findings of the study have been published in Developmental Medicine Neurology.

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