Visual Impairment and Blindness in Infants
Visual Impairment and Blindness in Infants
By Rochelle Caviness - Updated December 18, 2008
Blindness means different things to different people. Legally a person is deemed blind if their vision is worse than 20/200 in their better eye, with correction. A person can also be deemed legally blind if their field of vision is less than 20 degrees. In many cases a legally blind individual has some measure of useable sight (i.e., they are partially sighted although legally blind). Very few people that are considered blind are actually 'totally' blind. Total blindness results when an individual has no visual perception at all.
For parents with a visually impaired, or blind infant, it is important to remember that no matter what degree of vision loss your child suffers, with adequate support and encouragement, your child can grow up to be and do almost anything they may want.
Visual Impairment and Its Effects Upon Development
A visual impairment may slightly slow a child's development. However, in most cases they will quickly catch up to their peers. The worst thing you can do is overly 'baby' your baby. Treat your visual impaired child the same as you would a sighted child. They will adapt to overcome any deficiency caused by their impairment – if they are given the chance. After taking sensible precautions to gate off stairs, lock up poisons, and move breakables out of the baby's reach (just as you would with a sighted child) let you baby crawl and play and explore to his heart's delight.
Provide your child with a variety of tactile, visual, audio, and oral stimuli. The more sights, textures, smells, and sounds you can expose your baby too, the better. This will help him learn to best utilize his other senses while encouraging him to explore the world around him – a world that he might not otherwise know exists because he is unable to see it.
Talk to your child's ophthalmologist to learn how much vision your child has, how his vision status may change over time, and any special needs he may have. For example, you may need to control your household lighting because many eye conditions can make your child sensitive to bright lights. Subdued lighting may therefore allow your infant to see better.
- Teach your baby to associate certain activities with specific objects. For instance, before washing him, let the baby play with the wash cloth and the soap. This play will help prepare him for the activity that is about to occur.
What Parents can do to help their child
As a parent, one of the most important things you can do to help your child is not to 'go it alone'. There is a wide range of support options open to you, both on a private as well as on a governmental level. This support ranges from emotional support to legal and financial help.
Common causes of blindness and visual impairment in infants:
- Join the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. This organization will not only help you learn how to help your child, but will also help you learn how to be an advocate for your child when dealing with schools, the government and the medical establishment. They will also help you come to terms with your child's impairment.
- It may be hard, but try not to be too overly protective. In the long run, you will be holding your baby back, rather than protecting them.
Visual loss in infants can arise due to a number of causes including eye or brain injuries, and some congenital birth defects. Infectious diseases, both viral and bacterial, can also lead to blindness if not treated properly. Other common causes of blindness, in infants, includes diseases such as,
- Optic Nerve Atrophy
- Retinopathy of Prematurity,
- Infantile Glaucoma
- Congenital Cataracts
- Low Birth weight, under 1,000 grams; increases the risk of an infant going blind.
Visual impairment and blindness, in infants, can also be caused by inherited genetic diseases such as:
Vitamin A Deficiency (Xerophthalmia)
- Juvenile Retinoschisis
- Leber Congenital Amaurosis
- Usher Syndrome, a condition that is associated with both vision and hearing loss.
- Best Disease
- Retinitis Pigmentosa
World wide, the most common, and correctable, cause of blindness in children is a Vitamin A deficiency. In the U.S. and Canada, blindness caused by Vitamin A deficiency is rare.
This article is for information purposes only, always consult your doctor for medical advice.
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