Visual Impairment

The term ‘visual impairment’ is used for a number of different vision problems which may be present at birth or acquired later. People may be partially sighted or severely sight impaired. Common ‘reduced vision’ problems (like low levels of short-sightedness) corrected by wearing glasses are not included. (However, young children may show some delayed development with language skills when a correctable problem is not recognised. Minor problems with reduced vision and hearing – both of which could be corrected – can appear to have a disproportionate effect on language development.)

Recognised characteristics of visual impairment include:

  • Blurring of vision
  • Loss of a part of the visual field (e.g. central vision)
  • Difficulty maintaining a steady gaze and coordinated eye movements
  • A cognitive problem understanding what is seen
  • Colour blindness

Some children have visual impairment as one feature of a multi-sensory impairment, or group of difficulties. It can occur together with, for example, learning disability, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, hearing impairment, or autism. Children’s development can be affected by the complex interaction of two or more problems.

Speech and language therapists working with visual impairment will be involved with other professionals.

Visually impaired children may attend mainstream nurseries and schools, or specialist units. Therapists work with specialist teachers for visually impaired children. Therapy may begin before school entry and continue into the school years. Therapy for children with visual impairment may target some or all areas of language development (depending on need): comprehension, expressive language, speech intelligibility, and/or dyslexia. Careful modification of resources is needed, particularly when a child has more than one difficulty. Teachers and therapists need to work together.

Adults may have ‘acquired visual impairment’ following head injury or stroke. Therapists working with clients who have language difficulties after the injury may need to take account of the interaction between dysphasia and any visual impairment.

Some points you may wish to discuss with any therapist you contact:

  • The therapist’s specialist credentials in the area of visual impairment. Specific knowledge and training may have been undertaken in connection with work experience in a special unit or school.
  • If you are already involved in a special programme or your child attends a special unit, you may wish to talk to the therapist about that.
  • How much experience the therapist has with visual impairment. (Therapists are unlikely to have the opportunity to develop wide experience in this field outside a specialist unit. However, they may be able to use their therapy skills working alongside other specialist professionals.)
  • Where the therapist sees people for assessment/therapy.
  • How much the therapist charges for assessment and/or regular therapy.

Last updated: January 29th, 2018