A Brain-Related Visual Problem May Affect More Children Than Thought

           A Brain-Related Visual Problem May Affect More Children Than Thought

 By Jim Windell

             There’s no question that many children suffer from various kinds of learning disabilities which hamper their academic success. But what those disabilities are is often unknown or poorly defined. Certainly, among the diverse disabilities affecting children’s ability to learn effectively are visual problems.

            Now, researchers think a brain-related visual impairment – once thought to be quite rare – may affect as many as one in every 30 children.

           The impairment is called Cerebral Visual Impairment (CVI) and it has been studied by researchers at the University of Bristol, located in Bristol, England.

           While scientists know that the brain is just as important as the eyes when it comes to seeing, many vision problems are caused by areas of the brain. These areas of the brain are needed for sight and when not working properly the resulting impairment cannot be resolved by wearing glasses. Some of the brain-related vision problems include difficulties with moving the eyes, seeing things in the space around (visual field) and recognizing objects accurately and quickly.

           Eye examinations often include asking children to read the letters on an eye chart. This tests how well the child can see the details of a letter from a specific distance. But this kind of visual acuity diagnostic assessment may miss many children with CVI. A child with CVI may have normal or near-normal acuity. The University of Bristol researchers found that when children had CVI there was no single problem that was most common. Instead, children often had difficulties 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. In fact, they discovered that four in every 10 children with support for special educational needs had one or more brain-related vision problems.

           In the study, researchers from the University of Bristol Medical School collected information from 2,298 children ages five to 11-years across 12 schools using teacher and parent questionnaires. They invited over 10 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 results, published in Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, will, the authors hope, help to raise awareness of CVI among parents and teachers in order that they might help to identify signs of the condition earlier.

           Dr Cathy Williams, the study's lead author and Associate Professor in Pediatric Ophthalmology at Bristol Medical School, said, "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."

           In the journal article, the authors recommend that detailed vision checking of all children who need extra support at school could improve outcomes for children.

           To read the original article, find it with this reference:

Cathy Williams, Anna Pease, Penny Warnes, Sean Harrison, Florine Pilon, Lea Hyvarinen, Stephanie West, Jay Self, John Ferris, & CVI Prevalence Study Group. Cerebral visual impairment‐related vision problems in primary school children: a cross‐sectional survey. Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, 2021 DOI: 10.1111/dmcn.14819


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