March 18th-24th was Down Syndrome Awareness Week. Did you know that 50% of people living with Down Syndrome (DS) wear glasses but 100% actually have poor visual acuity!
After a 20 year study, Dr Woodhouse found that children with DS have much poorer eyesight than that of a child of the same age. It still remains poorer even when wearing prescribed glasses. She explained. “Children with Down Syndrome are visual learners. You could therefore, argue that good vision is more important to a child with Down Syndrome than it is for a typical child because a typical child can compensate through their other senses where as a child with Down Syndrome can not”.
A common misconception is that Down Syndrome children have low scores on vision because they have a learning difficulty therefore not trying as hard. However when the team measured the technique of Visual Evoked Potentials (VEP) they found that these children had VEP acuity below their age-matched peers.
“This shows that it is not because the children aren’t trying during the visual acuity task or that they have got poor attention, it is because they genuinely do not see as well as everyone else. It is only a small deficit, but it is enough to make a big difference in school when eyes are pushed to the limit. For example, writing in pencil is really difficult for a child with Down’s syndrome because pencil is very faint. Teachers and parents should ensure that children with Down’s syndrome are writing in pen.”
Advice for optometrists
Dr Woodhouse appreciates that many optometrists rarely see children with Down’s syndrome and so may not know how best to work with them. Children with Down’s syndrome tend process information at a slower rate than children of a matched age. Always try to book a longer appointment so things can be explained to the parent and the child feels more at ease. Do not feel worried about involving the parents when asking any questions but remember, although the response may be slower, please be patient, its probably all new to them too.
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