Low Vision Services: An Overview
If your child with a visual impairment has low vision—that is, vision that is impaired but that may be useful in performing his everyday activities—low vision services can help him make the best possible use of his existing vision.
These services include a special type of examination given by an eye care professional with training in the field of low vision as well as the specialist’s recommendations and follow-up services. Low vision specialists are ophthalmologists and optometrists who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of people with low vision.
Although ophthalmologists and optometrists, in general, treat eye diseases and measure vision for eyeglasses or contact lenses, the prescriptions in standard eyeglasses and contact lenses typically cannot help individuals with low vision to see better. Instead, certain low vision devices and techniques are used by low vision specialists to help individuals maximize their existing vision, and these can help your child use his vision most effectively. That’s why it’s important to have your primary eye care practitioner who diagnoses and treats your child’s eye condition refer you to a specialist in low vision if he or she is not trained in that area. Or, you can consult the “Find Services” section of this website.
If your child has a teacher of students with visual impairments, this teacher can help you and your child prepare before your first visit to a low vision clinic where these services are provided and can help you figure out the kinds of questions you may want to ask the low vision specialist. The teacher may also accompany you to give the low vision specialist information about your child’s vision and to make sure you and your child understand the tests and the doctor’s recommendations.
A Range of Services for Children with Low Vision
The services available from a low vision clinic or practitioner include the following:
- A clinical low vision examination, which is different from a typical eye exam and uses special testing materials to evaluate how the person with low vision sees. Many dimensions of someone’s vision are typically explored, such as visual acuity, visual field, and a number of other functions.
- Prescription of low vision devices, if appropriate, and recommendations for adaptive techniques to use during daily activities
- Training in the use of any prescribed devices from a certified low vision therapist at the clinic or from your child’s teacher of students with visual impairments
- Related training such as orientation and mobility (O&M) instruction
The low vision specialist doesn’t treat your child’s eye condition medically; rather he or she will examine how your child functions with his existing vision. The examination includes your child’s vision history and uses special charts and materials to assess your child’s near and distance vision that are not generally part of usual eye exams. After examining your child, the low vision specialist will explain what devices or techniques can help improve your child’s visual functioning. In many cases, the specialist will show you and your child optical and other devices and help your child explore their use. These may include:
- Optical low vision devices, devices that use lenses to enhance vision, such as magnifiers, telescopes, or video magnifiers (see “Low Vision Devices: An Overview”). Optical devices need to be correctly matched to your child’s vision, so they should always be prescribed by a vision professional and not purchased “off the shelf.”
- Nonoptical devices, such as high-intensity lighting or book stands.
- Adaptive techniques, such as eccentric viewing, better positioning, or the use of enhanced lighting.
Training and Practice for Children Who Use Low Vision Devices
The importance of training and supervised practice in the use of any optical low vision device that is prescribed for your child can’t be stressed enough. Using these devices is not as easy as putting on a new pair of eyeglasses; it requires learning special skills and practicing them over time. Without training and practice, your child may assume that his device doesn’t work or is too difficult or tiring to use. Students can also be self-conscious and uncomfortable about using something that makes them look different from their friends. If your child has had enough practice and support to help him realize how using a device can make him more independent in his daily life, the benefits of improved vision may ultimately outweigh his self-consciousness! In this way, the benefits of low vision services can contribute greatly to your child’s ability to function efficiently in school and in daily life.