Eli wearing his glasses

Kids in SEND classes need their glasses too!

With imminent publication of a Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) green paper, our Head of Eye Care and Vision, Lisa Donaldson blogs on the importance of recognising disabled children’s vision needs. 

“There’s no doubt that there is huge trepidation from disabled children, their parents and families about what new SEND reforms will say or deliver. So much in the world of SEND can be a battle for the right support whether that be in education, health or social care. 

Here at SeeAbility we want to play our small part in making life that bit easier for disabled children and their parents. 

We focus on eye care, because that is a huge issue for children with learning disabilities in particular. They are 28 times more likely to have a sight problem, but we know much less likely to have even had a sight test in the past, for a myriad of reasons and barriers.

That means there are thousands of children in special schools who could benefit from glasses who just don’t have them. Or children who could get the adaptations they need in their school and classroom if their vision issue was better recognised.

We know this from our own work providing eye care in special schools and we’ve delivered close to 5,000 sight tests now.

It’s estimated that 80% of our learning happens through our vision, yet we also know that far too few Education, Health and Care Plans of children in special schools mention the importance of eye care for any child. 

The SEND review is our opportunity to change this and to bring the Department of Education into some good preventative work that is being done on this front.

The new NHS Special Schools Eye Care Service

To NHS England’s credit, since 2018 it has been looking at what SeeAbility and other research projects have done to deliver eye care in special schools. With advice from all the eye care professions, teachers including Qualified Teachers of Visual Impairment (QTVIs) and SEND charities, it is now in the midst of rolling out a new NHS Special Schools Eye Care Service. A proof of concept is trialling out the service in three regions initially, but already the results are astounding.

Nearly half of children have never had any eye care, and yet 4 in 10 need glasses.

The joy of the service is discovering there are children that hadn’t been able to see in day to day life, who now can. You can read James' story below.

And it’s also helping a cohort of children who attend hospital eye clinics otherwise. Despite fantastic work in clinics, for some children and parents with numerous medical appointments, a visit to the eye clinic adds to logistical challenges.

Yvonne Newbold MBE, author of the Special Parents Handbook recently shared her experiences with us:

“I must admit the hospital appointments I dreaded the most were the eye clinic. The 1 hour wait for drops, that turned into 2 hours, the ‘judging looks’ in the waiting room as Toby got increasingly distressed. If someone had said he could have had his sight tests and get his glasses in his special school I would have bitten their hand off!”

Over 90 special schools have been trailblazing the way with the new NHS Special Schools Eye Care Service now. 

When you read some of the difficult stories that SEND parents share about access to health services, it is refreshing that in the future, tens of thousands of children will have no need to worry about accessing one vital health check. 

The NHS is expanding a service to meet their needs! Of course there is plenty more in community eye care that needs to be done too and we certainly won’t rest until everyone with a learning disability gets the eye care they need. Everyone deserves an equal right to sight, whether in special school or not."

Click for more advice and free guides to looking after your eyes.

James' story

James has a learning disability, sensory issues and is non-verbal. He attends a school where the NHS Special Schools Eye Care Service started in September 2021. He had his very first eye test in school just before his 9th birthday. He was discovered to be highly long sighted (+5.00) - making it impossible to see schoolwork, the board, his classmates or his teacher’s faces clearly. 

Since getting his glasses his teachers say how much more James has been engaging in school activities. His Mum, Claire, told us:

"I just didn’t know how to get James’ eyes checked. Checks like this should be put in place to help families who have no other way."