About Sight Loss and Visual Impairment
Two in every 1,000 (0.2%) children and young people in the UK have a visual impairment (RNIB/WHO). Around 20 per cent of young people with vision impairment have additional special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) and a further 30 per cent have complex needs. An estimated 0.031% (31 in every 100,000) children and young people up to the age of 19 in the UK have co-occurring vision and hearing impairments eg Usher Syndrome.
There are a range of different diagnoses or conditions that can result in a child having a visual impairment. The most common causes of sight impairment amongst children in England and Wales are hereditary retinal dystrophies (including conditions like Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) and Stargardt's disease), followed by cortical/cerebral visual impairment, and then Nystagmus. Other causes include optic nerve disorders, glaucoma, and functional sight loss.
The impact of living with a visual impairment will vary according to the nature of the diagnosis, the support available to the child, their family context, how they are coping in education, if the child is dealing with other diagnoses, and a number of other variables.
A significant proportion of children and young people with sight loss will experience emotional difficulties as a result of coping with their visual impairment. These issues can vary in nature but could include Depression, Anxiety, Sleep Problems, or Deliberate Self Harm.
Often these issues will improve over time, with support from the child’s family and school- but when they become more chronic or ingrained, they will require input from mental health professionals e.g. a hospital psychologist (including the Fight Against Blindness (FAB) psychologists), school counsellor, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS).