Our Children in Focus project is helping teachers from special schools across the country better support thousands of children and young people with vision impairment.

The project delivers specialist sight tests in special schools across England and having carried out almost 1,000 in six special schools to date, we are aiming to establish a national eye care system for children with learning disabilities.

Our work has uncovered children with learning disabilities are 28 times more likely to have vision impairment than other children.

The Village School, a special school in North London, was one of the first schools to take part in the project. Tanja Holher, QTVI at the school, has been working closely with SeeAbility since 2013. Tanja works with 250 pupils aged four to 19 who have a wide range of complex needs. Her job is to gauge what the children can see on a day-to-day basis and work to help them learn as much as they can.

It’s really important for children in special schools to have their eyes assessed. I work with SeeAbility to reduce the impact of ‘unseen disability’. Without an eye assessment we can’t tell what each child’s world is like. My job has evolved since 2013. Before then I didn’t have much clinical information on the children, I had to rely on my own observations as to what each child could see. Now I really trust Lisa (SeeAbility’s specialist optometrist), who helps fill in the gaps, continues Tanja. I rely on Lisa for clinical insights and to help find the best spectacles for each child, and she relies on me for information on how the students are performing during the week.

With Tanja as the vital link, the school is able to work closely with SeeAbility to get the most out of the project.
These kids have to go to so many appointments at the hospital, everything is medical, clinical, invasive, but Lisa makes eye care into a fun game. There’s no waiting time, they are with a teaching assistant they know and in an environment they are comfortable and familiar with.

Lisa and Tanja combine their clinical and functional findings into individual plans for each child. Lisa writes an in-depth report and Tanja simplifies it to put it into action in class. Lisa outlines the child’s level of vision and their individual barriers to learning before listing strategies to use in class.

It’s great having the SeeAbility team in the school regularly because I can work with them to ensure each child’s glasses fit. Spectacles often need to be adjusted and that’s not something I can do. It isn’t realistic to expect parents of children with profound difficulties to keep returning to a high street optician that may be difficult to access in many ways.

The Village School has seen a vast improvement in the learning and behaviour of the children tested. One young man, Nathaniel, has learning disabilities and a profound hearing problem. He was found to be severely short-sighted with a prescription of -18. Without glasses his world is limited to just a few centimetres in front of his face. Without glasses Nathaniel's behaviour is much worse. The project has allowed him to have the right-fitting glasses that are so essential to him.

Thanks to the dedication of QTVIs like Tanja, there are many children and young people that have benefited from the campaign. We recently received over £300,000 towards this project, which we will use to scale up our sight testing work.To help QTVI’s working with children with learning disabilities and complex needs, we have a number of resources on our website.