Low vision in kids isn’t the same as nearsightedness or farsightedness. If you have a child with low vision, their eyesight won’t get better with glasses or contacts. But low vision services can help them make the most of their sight.
Here’s what you need to know about low vision and the pediatric low vision services that can help your kid.
What Is Childhood Low Vision?
Low vision isn’t simply poor vision. Doctors define low vision as 20/70 or worse in the better-seeing eye. It is often caused by eye disease.
Low vision isn’t complete blindness. But irreversible vision loss makes it hard to perform daily tasks.
Kids with low vision may have difficulty reading or playing sports. They may find it hard to recognize faces. If your child has low vision, they may lack one or more of the following:
- Clear vision.
- Central vision.
- Peripheral (side) vision.
- Depth perception.
- Contrast sensitivity.
- The ability for the brain to process what the eyes are seeing.
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Signs of Low Vision in Kids
The first signs of childhood low vision include clumsiness and inattentiveness. They are often mistaken for other problems. That’s why kids need to have regular eye exams.
In babies and toddlers, signs of low vision include:
- Absent or delayed blink reflex to light.
- Uncontrolled eye movements.
- Delayed or absent eye contact with other people.
- Inability to fixate on objects.
- Crossed eyes (strabismus).
- Lack of awareness of their hands.
- Clumsiness with crawling.
- Having a hard time reaching for toys or other things.
- Holding objects close to the face.
- Difficulty navigating stairs and curbs.
For older kids, the signs of low vision may include:
- Problems with reading.
- Issues seeing different colors and contrast.
Causes of Pediatric Low Vision
A range of eye diseases and issues can cause childhood low vision. Some of these include:
- Albinism. A health issue passed from parent to child that lowers the pigment made in the skin, hair, and eyes. It can cause vision problems, including light sensitivity, involuntary eye movements, and low vision.
- Eye injury. Trauma is a leading cause of vision loss in kids. Trauma can come from playing sports or other actions that risk the eyes.
- Pediatric cataracts. Cloudiness in the eye’s lens. Cataracts in kids may be genetic or come from an infection or abnormal growth in utero.
- Pediatric glaucoma. An increase in the eye’s internal pressure leads to optic nerve damage.
- Retinal diseases. Some rare diseases (Bardet-Biedl syndrome, retinitis pigmentosa, and Usher syndrome) can cause low vision or blindness in kids.
Treatment for pediatric low vision will depend on the specific cause of your child’s eye problem.
When Should You Get Your Child’s Eyes Checked?
Babies get their first eye check in the hospital. After that, your baby should have an eye exam at 6 months old and then at least once before starting school.
School-age kids should have a complete eye exam every two years. Those who need glasses should have an eye exam every year.
If your kid shows signs of low vision, schedule an exam right away. Your child’s doctor can refer them to a kid’s eye doctor for a low vision test.
Low vision care for kids consists of a team of health care workers. Your child’s team may include:
- Pediatric ophthalmologists.
- Occupational therapists.
- Physical therapists.
- Speech therapists.
- Vision rehabilitation therapists.
- Assistive technology experts.
- Mobility specialists.
- Vocational counselors.
Services for Kids with Low Vision
There’s no cure for childhood low vision. But there are many ways to support kids with vision loss so they can lead full lives and do many things on their own. Your child may benefit greatly from a variety of helpful devices and therapies.
Getting help early on — ideally before age 3 — gives kids with low vision the best chance at doing well. Your child’s eye doctor can help locate low vision services in your area.
There are many devices and therapies to help kids with low vision.
Near vision aids
Near vision aids help make the most of a child’s vision. The most common low vision devices for kids are magnifiers and telescopes. These can be handheld, a single-vision spectacle, or on a stand.
Electronic low vision devices
Electronic low vision devices, including smartphones, apps, and artificial intelligence technology, have changed the game of assistive technology for kids with low vision.
Voice recognition makes it easier for children to use email and text messaging. Audiobooks make books more accessible for people with vision issues. Tablets or e-readers with font enlargement can help kids with low vision read.
Children with low vision are often sensitive to light. Glare control options like tinted lenses and glasses with side shields can help. They come in colors to offer contrast and filter out glare.
Assistance with the activities of daily living (ADLs)
Occupational therapists can help with low-vision aids and the placement of items in the home and school.
It helps kids with low vision if objects stay in the same place at home. Consistency in the placement of objects helps kids make food, care for their bodies, and get dressed on their own.
At school, kids and their families can ask for large print books, optimal light, and sloped desks to be closer to their work surface.
Children with low vision often feel isolated and unable to take part in normal hobbies like sports and social events. They can’t always read facial cues, making them feel even more isolated.
Kids may have mental health issues due to low vision. They may also have headaches, nightmares, or irritable moods. Counseling can be a vital part of their treatment.
Professional counseling helps children learn how to stand up for their needs early. A counselor can guide them to become more independent and learn how to navigate hard situations.
American Academy of Ophthalmology, Pediatric Low Vision, Link
American Academy of Pediatrics, Warning Signs of Vision Problems in Infants & Children, Link
American Academy of Ophthalmology, What Is Childhood Low Vision? Link
American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strubismus, Pediatric Low Vision, Link
National Eye Institute, Low Vision, Link
Kidshealth.org, Visual Impairments Factsheet (for Schools), Link
Kidshealth.org, Your Child's Vision, Link
American Foundation for the Blind, Low Vision and Legal Blindness Terms and Descriptions, Link
About UPMC Vision Institute
The UPMC Vision Institute is a national leader in the treatment of eye diseases and disorders. We seek to improve and restore your vision to help your quality of life, diagnosing and treating a wide range of conditions in both children and adults. Our treatments include both surgical and nonsurgical options. We also offer routine eye screenings and have full-scale optical shops. Find an eye expert close to you.
From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is a national leader in pediatric care, ranking consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. We provide expert treatment for pediatric diseases, along well-child visits, urgent care, and more. With locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, you can find world-class care close to home. We also work closely with UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, a national leader in care for newborns and their mothers. Our goal is to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond. Visit our website to find a doctor near you.