Developmental Disabilities

Vision/Hearing » Vision


Testing Your Child's Vision

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By Irene Topor, M.Ed.


What is a functional vision assessment?

A functional vision assessment measures how well your child uses vision under different conditions. it can also show how you can stimulate your child’s

use of vision. The assessment is given by a vision specialist - a professional trained to measure how children use vision.


Who should have a functional vision assessment?

Any child with a medically diagnosed visual impairment should have an assessment. A pediatric ophthalmologist or optometrist can determine if yourchild needs an assessment. 


Visual function is based on the child’s experiences and desire to see, as well as the condition of the eyes, so function may be different for each child - even if the visual impairments are the same. Two children who can see hand movements may each use color, light, and shape differently. 


Children with multiple disabilities often have vision problems. If your child has other disabilities, have an eye doctor check your child’s vision. If an eye problem or disease is identified, your child should visit a vision specialist.

Tell the doctor if your child takes any medications.


This is important because medications can affect your child’s visual functioning and sensitivity to bright lights.


What can the functional vision assessment tell about my child?

Your child’s ability to use vision may not be related to your child’s visual acuity - how clearly the child sees detail - or medically diagnosed visual impairment. The eye doctor’s evaluation, together wit a functional vision assessment, will determine how your child sees best.


Here is what the vision specialist will check to determine how your child best uses vision: Positioning. Some children with multiple impairments see better when they lie on their backs or sides. Other do well sitting in a chair by a table, or on the floor. Your child will always see better when the head is supported and steady.


Vision development. The specialist may use a checklist to see how your child's visual development compares with that of other children.


Lighting. The specialist will determine if your child prefers lighting that is incandescent or fluorescent, and bright, average, or dim.


Using both eyes together. The specialist will check your child’s ability to use both eyes together, This important ability helps your child judge near and far distance.


Size and color of objects. The specialist will watch your child play with many different interesting- looking toys to see if some colors and sizes are more effective than others.


Near and far distance acuity. Using special picture cards, the specialist will test your child’s ability to see detail. Your child will look at the picture at 16 inches and then at 10 feet.


The Teller Acuity Test measures the visual acuity of infants and toddlers. Your child will look at stripes on cards and show a preference for certain cards. The specialist will test each of your child’s eyes separately and then together.


Visual field/visual field preference. Some children see better to one side or the other, or below or above eye level. Your child may prefer one visual field, or might not see at all in some visual fields.


Tracking, scanning, and shifting attention. To check your child’s ability to visually follow nearby and distant moving objects, the specialist will watch how your child’s eyes move from one toy or person to another. Your child might need more time to look at people, objects, and events.


Using vision to get around. Your child may use vision to crawl and walk. The assessment will determine if your child needs help in using vision to move about familiar and unfamiliar places.


Recognition/discrimination/visual perception skills. Two and 3-year olds can do visual tasks such as match colors or geometric forms. They can color, cut and past, match letters and words, and read words on sight. The specialist may test your child on some of these skills.


How can I help my child use vision?


Remember: Vision is a learned process. Your child needs time and practice to use vision efficiently.


Review the results of your child’s eye exam and functional vision assessment. Request copies of both reports. Be sure you understand your child’s visual impairment. Ask the vision specialist how the assessment can help you help your child.


Use natural, daily activities to help your child use vision. Provide the recommended special lighting, toys, and colors during play, feeding, dressing, and social times. Use other techniques - such as positioning the child and presenting objects in certain visual fields - at the same time.


Encourage your child to use vision. Say. “Look at the dog,” or, “See the car!” Praise your child’s attempts ut use vision.


Watch how your child looks at things. It may seem as though your child is not looking at an object, but this may be how your child needs to look to see.


Some children need to touch and look at objects to learn. Let your child do this at first, if the vision specialist approves. Gradually encourage your child to just look, if appropriate.


The way your child sees may vary; tiredness and medications both affect visual functioning.


Tell your eye doctor and vision specialist about new skills and any changes. Discuss with the specialist any task for which you think your child can learn to use vision.



A functional vision assessment determines how your child visually functions in daily activities and under specific conditions. It will help you and your child’s teachers know which activities will help your child see best while playing, eating, enjoying a social occasion, and learning.


Work with your eye doctor and vision specialist to create an environment that will help your child learn to see as well as possible.


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