Eye care

7 mins read

This advice applies across the UK.

Getting the best eye care for your child is important to everyone.

Children are still ‘learning’ how to see, as their eyes and brains are still developing. They very rarely complain of trouble seeing, they just adapt to how things are. Often there will be no obvious clues that their sight is an issue.

So picking up any problems as early as possible is important.

In this article

Why is eye care important?

If your child has an eye issue, understanding how it affects them will help you and teachers support them. Children with a learning disability are 28 times more likely to have a problem with their eyes and/or sight.

Making sure your child’s sight is as clear as possible, if necessary by using glasses, will help with their overall development and learning, including development of social skills, eye-hand and motor co-ordination.

In addition, clearly-focussed sight allows the brain to ‘learn’ how to see to a greater level of detail. Not having glasses when you need them in childhood limits how well you can see throughout your life.

Free eye care on the NHS

All children can get free NHS eye care and glasses when they need them.

If your child attends a special school, they should receive a full eye and sight check at least once a year in their school. This should include an assessment of how well they can see; measurements to check if they need glasses; and checks on the health of the inside and outside of the eyes.

If they need glasses, the check will include supplying and fitting them and support to get used to wearing them. It is important that the eye care professional shares these results with you and the school.

See our page on help with NHS costs for more on free dental services.

Getting an eye test

Why test my child’s eyes?

Identifying issues

Eye tests can pick up problems with sight early so children get the best use of the sight they have. No child is too disabled for an eye test. Your child doesn’t need to be able to read, speak or sit still to have an eye test. Nor should this prevent them getting glasses if they need them.

Many clues that a child has trouble seeing – such as a lack of eye contact, poor concentration, little interest in toys or games, ‘clumsiness’ or signs of frustration – can also be signs of a disability or autism. This means an eye test is the only way to know whether there is a problem with your child’s sight.

Sight problems caused by the brain are the leading cause of untreatable sight problems for disabled children, especially children with cerebral palsy. An eye test can help opticians understand how the brain is affecting your child’s sight and work out ways to support it.

Squints, when the two eyes aren’t looking in the same direction, need to be picked up as early as possible. Sometimes glasses can correct a squint; less often an operation is necessary. Sometimes squints can be difficult to treat in children with poor sight or poor control of their eye movements.

Solving problems

As well as picking up eye problems, an eye test can often solve them. Glasses can correct the most common causes of poor sight. Sometimes there may be a problem that glasses or treatment can’t make better. But understanding how much a child can see is really important to make the best use of the sight they do have.

Your child should have a full eye check at least once a year. If you are concerned that there is any change in their eyes or sight, then ask for it sooner.

How will my child’s eye test go?

The eye care professional may use vision tests to help measure and understand how well they can see. This might include using test cards or a digital screen with letters, pictures, patterns or different sizes of beads and balls.

They will check how well and how accurately your child can move their eyes, as well as if their eyes work together to give 3D or stereo-vision. They will check your child’s peripheral or ‘all round’ sight as well as the healthy or their eyes, both inside and out.

Even if your child isn’t able to do ‘vision tests’ or make choices, it’s possible to check to see if they need glasses by measuring the shape of their eyes using a special torch called a retinoscope. Glasses can then be accurately prescribed to ensure clearly-focussed sight. It may be necessary to use drops in your child’s eyes to prescribe glasses.

How can I support my child to have an eye test?

Before your child’s eye test, think about how your child uses their eyes and sight. Do your child’s eyes look straight, or does one eye turn in or out, sometimes or all the time? Share this with their eye care professional.

Is their sight different when they are tired? Can they recognise you from a distance without sound clues? How is their concentration for different tasks, e.g. looking at a book, photos on a phone or watching TV? Do they rub or screw up their eyes or turn their head or face to look at things?

You can help your child to prepare by showing pictures or videos of what happens at an eye test. Try playing eye test games using a small torch close to the eyes. Playing peekaboo with small toys and practise covering each eye in turn. Practice sight tests with them using free applications you can download on a tablet. Examples include Kay Say and Match and Peekaboo Vision apps.

You know your child best. Don’t be afraid to tell the eye care professional what will help the test go well, such as avoiding sudden movements, bright lights, darkness or touch and explaining tests or demonstrating them on you first.

After the eye test

Ask your child’s eye care professional to provide a written report on their visual abilities, needs and difficulties. You can ask them to explain this in language you and your child’s teachers can understand. The report should include any glasses prescription and explanation of how they’ll help.

If your child needs glasses, they will probably need time and support to get used to wearing them. Ask your child’s eye care professional to show you the effect on your child’s sight with and without their glasses using their ‘test lenses’.

If your child is having problems getting used to their glasses, don’t give up but seek further help. Make sure they always have a spare pair of glasses. And don’t wait for routine appointments to address breakages or repairs.

Registering as Sight Impaired

If your child has very poor sight, they may be eligible for registration as Sight Impaired or Severely Sight Impaired by an ophthalmologist (eye doctor at the hospital). This may help with accessing services, including the support of a Qualified Teacher for the Visually Impaired (QTVI).

If your child has a severe visual impairment, they may qualify for the higher rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA). DLA is the main benefit for disabled children. Your child will qualify if their best corrected visual acuity is less than 3/60. Or if more than 3/60, is less than 6/60 with a complete loss of peripheral visual field, and a central visual field of no more than 10 degrees in total.

If your child does not meet this test indoors but has significantly worse eyesight when outside, call our free helpline.

Where can I find out more?

SeeAbility provide specialist support, accommodation and eye care help for people with learning disabilities, autism and sight loss.

RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind) offers information, support and advice for parents of children with sight loss. RNIB also run Braille courses for children.