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How to aid a child with visual defects

Health & Science - By Standard Digital | March 6th 2010 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

By John Muturi

Total blindness in childhood is rare, but there are numerous cases of children who are partially sighted.

Children who have very bad eyesight require some form of visual aid beyond the normal range of glasses obtainable on prescription from opticians.

The causes of partial sight in childhood are many but common ones include:

• Cataract, an open opaqueness in all or part of the lens (the bit of the eye that lets the light shine through, allowing it to activate nerve ends in the retina). It can be corrected surgically, but this is rare for a baby unless there is a genuine risk of blindness in both eyes.

• Glaucoma, arises when the eye’s natural fluid can’t drain away. The build-up causes an unnatural pressure, resulting in blurred vision. If not treated, the child can lose eyesight.

• Squint is where a child’s eyes appear to look in opposite directions. A squint is normal in a baby under six months. However, if a severe squint continues and remains untreated, blindness in one eye may occur by the time a child is two or three years old. Treatment for squints varies from temporarily covering up the good eye to surgery.

• Toxocariasis is a rare disease passed to a child through contact with a cat or dog excrement, usually when he or she is playing in a place used by animals.

Many children have less serious visual defects, which are easily corrected by wearing of prescription glasses.

Common defects that can be corrected include short-sightedness where a child sees object that are near, but an object far away appears blurred.

For long-sightedness he or she sees objects far away clearly, whereas a nearby object appears blurred.

Slow to learn

Routine medical screening is an efficient means of detecting these minor visual defects.

Sight is only one of the five senses, but is possibly the most important, since a great deal of learning takes place through vision. A child with impaired vision may be slower to learn basic skills than a sighted child. However, your baby has to learn to use whatever vision he has, no matter how slight it may be.

Unlike a baby with normal vision who can sit unaided and use his eyes to observe his environment, a partially sighted baby needs the environment to come to him or her. Objects have to be brought close to the child and people have to be nearer than normal when talking to him or her. A baby with partial sight needs a lot more touching and other physical communication.

He will rely on sounds and smells to gain understanding of what is going on around him. It is important to talk to her while playing.

Just like a sighted baby, she needs to be placed in different positions to encourage her physical development.

A partially sighted baby should have a normal range of opportunities to be in her pram or walker. She should also be allowed to experience rolling about on the floor.

She needs to be allowed to move around her environment. As long as sensible safety precautions are taken, for instance, a cooker guard, a rail across the top of the stairs or covers for the electricity sockets, than the few bumps and bruises that she acquires will be more than offset by the benefit she gains from exploring.

Toys are as important to a partially sighted child’s development as they are to a sighted child’s, although buying a toy for a child with limited vision requires more thought. There are toys designed specifically for a partially sighted child.

Some important features to consider while choosing toys include:

Stimulating

Choose toys that are interesting to touch, which rattle or make any sort of noise, and which have an interesting smell.

Colourfulness

A partially sighted child may have some vision, however slight. Toys in vivid yellow, blue, red or green are easier to see than dull colours.

Play potential

Some toys, for instance, jigsaws, are only usable in specific ways, while others, for instance building bricks, modelling clay and paper and paints, can be used in a variety of ways.

This latter group — with a greater play potential-is the kind of toys most suited to the needs of a child with partial sight.

Safety

Avoid play objects that have sharp edges, that are easily breakable, or that are small enough to be swallowed.

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