When it comes to assessing the visual status of special needs children, you need to find an office that is going to give them the time, sensitivity and care that they need. Often, the children are not able to communicate verbally and so special testing equipment and expertise is required to make an accurate assessment of their visual status.

Just like all the other people we evaluate in our office, special needs children use their eyes for much more than just seeing small objects that are far away. They are using their visual system to explore and make sense of their world. We need to make sure that they have good eye teaming, eye-focusing and eye-tracking skills. Having good visual efficiency will maximize their learning potential.

As a specialist dealing with special populations, Robert Lederman is on the Professional Advisory Group of the Kabuki Network for populations with Kabuki Syndrome.

Down's Syndrome

Recent research finds that when considering the visual needs of the Down's syndrome population, one needs to remember that over 75% of them have difficulty focusing up-close. This means that they will likely need a bifocal lens and/or a separate pair of reading glasses. If your child is in this population and does not have a reading prescription, it is likely that they are missing out.

Cerebral Palsy

Children with cerebral palsy present with different challenges, depending on whether their CP is spastic, athetoid or ataxic. This population often presents with poorer eyesight and so will often benefit from a special prescription for close work. Though vision therapy is generally not as effective in correcting strabismus (eye-turn) in this population, eye-tracking skills can often be improved leading to better following and more accurate reading.

The Autism Spectrum

Doctors treating autism and other developmental disabilities on the autism spectrum often give parents a bleak picture of their children’s future. In reality, mounting evidence clearly shows that autism and related developmental disabilities are very much treatable. A wide range of therapies-among them one-on-one educational intervention, special diets, nutritional therapies, and sensory integration therapy-are dramatically changing the lives of hundreds of thousands of children once considered "hopeless"

How does vision fit into this picture? The visual system is our dominant sense. More information is obtained by the visual sensory system than by any other sensory system. A remarkably high percentage of children with autism and other developmental and cognitive problems suffer from vision problems that severely impair their attention, their ability to understand their world, and their ability to respond to the people around them. Developmental Optometry uses a combination of lenses, prisms and filters and optometric vision therapy to address these vision problems. Vision therapy works together with other interventions, enabling children to respond much more positively to educational and other sensory integration therapies.

Seeing through new eyes by Dr. Melvin Kaplan, OD is a new book about how Developmental Optometry can help change the lives of children with Autism, Asperger syndrome and other developmental disabilities.

References:
Reduced accommodation in children with Down syndrome, Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, Vol 34, 2382-2387, JM Woodhouse, JS Meades, SJ Leat and KJ Saunders Department of Optometry, University of Wales College of Cardiff, United Kingdom.