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Bringing dedicated eyecare to children in special schools

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Action-funded research has helped pave the way for eyecare services to be delivered in special schools across the UK. This could improve the health, wellbeing and educational outcomes for many thousands of children with learning disabilities.

Boy having an eye test

Children with learning disabilities are 28 times more likely to have a serious sight problem than other children, but nearly 40 per cent have never had an eye test or any eyecare.

Access to eyecare can be extremely challenging for children with developmental disabilities and their families. These children may also be less able to express, or even recognise, that they have sight problems. Plus health professionals and other adults may make assumptions that their behaviour is a part of their disability without exploring other factors.

As a result, sight problems often remain undiagnosed, and therefore untreated, preventing children from reaching their full potential.

With Action funding awarded in 2016, a team led by Professor Kathryn Saunders at Ulster University has shown the benefits of offering comprehensive eyecare services within the familiar setting of school.

Called the Special Education Eyecare project, or SEE for short, two hundred children and young people from Northern Ireland’s biggest special school took part.

The research proved that providing in-school eyecare – with glasses dispensed on-site and written information and advice shared with teachers and parents – had a positive impact on both the children’s vision and their behaviour and engagement in the classroom.

The findings have already begun to influence provision of in-school vision services for children in England, with plans to inform provision more widely across the UK in the near future – meaning this research is set to benefit many thousands of children and young people.

The modern NHS requires evidence of benefit when developing and funding services. The support from Action was pivotal in providing this.

Professor Kathryn Saunders