Brain-related visual problem ‘common’ in children

Researchers are hoping to raise awareness of a brain-related visual impairment, which may be more common than previously believed.

Cerebral visual impairment could affect one in every 30 children, say Dr Cathy Williams and colleagues at the University of Bristol, UK.

It is usually diagnosed in childhood, with children having unclear vision that can sometimes lead to anxiety and low self-esteem as it can cause clumsiness, bumping into others, and inability to focus on a task or communicate effectively.

The condition manifests differently to normal short- or long- sightedness and can remain undiagnosed.

This study analysed teacher and parent questionnaires about 2,298 children aged five to 11 years old, together with a detailed assessment of 10% of the participants.

Based on their findings, the researchers estimate that one or two children in every class of 30 may have cerebral visual impairment.

Among the difficulties they found were problems with eye movements, visual field, recognition of objects and seeing things in clutter. In addition, about 40% of children with support for special educational needs had brain-related vision problems, compared with 3% for children overall.

The findings were published yesterday in Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology

Dr Williams 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.”

Williams, C. et al. Cerebral visual impairment-related vision problems in primary school children: a cross-sectional survey. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology 3 February 2021; doi: 10.1111/dmcn.14819

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