Two in every thousand (0.2%) children and young people up to the age of 25 in the UK have visual impairment.

Some children are at higher risk of visual impairment, these include:

  • Very premature and low birth weight babies
  • Children with learning disabilities
  • Children from South Asian Ethnic groups
  • Children from the most economically deprived social backgrounds

Around 20% of young people with visual impairment have additional special educational needs and/or disabilities.

Two thirds of childhood visual impairment is present from birth or diagnosed in the first year with causes that are very different to the causes in adults.

(Reference: Vision 2020 Sightloss postcard)


Visual impairment, depending on the severity, can be registered as severely sight impaired (formerly blind) and sight impaired (formerly partially sighted). A Certificate of Visual Impairment (CVI) is completed by an ophthalmologist and sent to the sensory support team who hold the register. The sensory support team within children’s services provide support to children and families through qualified teachers for the visually impaired/multi-sensory impaired and rehabilitation/habilitation workers.

Sensory support teams and national organisations provide support and information around equipment, mobility, technology, training, education, benefits, independence, well being and much more.

It is not always easy to say at the first visit to eye clinic if a child is eligible for visual impairment certification. Vision develops at different rates in children and what would be considered “normal” vision is different at different ages. Often the child’s progress over several visits will be considered before making a decision.

The legal definitions of sight impairment (partially sighted) or severe sight impairment (blind) are based on how well someone can see the letters on the vision chart used by adults. It is however commonplace for children to be assessed using other measures of visual function, and decisions about sight impairment registration can occur without the child being able to read letters or communicate verbally.

One useful way of thinking about if a child is eligible for visual impairment registration is if the child’s development is being held back by their vision. For some children, there will be several reasons why their development is delayed and this makes it difficult to have a specific vision level at which to register children with special needs sight impaired.

Some eye hospital clinics have eye clinic liaison officers who can offer advice and support during this time.

Useful links

Starting point – help and support for parents and carers of visually impaired children

RNIB Eye clinic liaison officers

RNIB – toy and play ideas