Orthoptists giving children with low vision path to independence

Image of two people holding books, depicted twice, once in a clear image and another in an image that is blurred.Orthoptists assist children with low vision to access visual information

Have you ever wondered about the role of the orthoptist? On the eve of the 76th Orthoptics Australia Annual Conference, we take the opportunity to explore this RIDBC service.

RIDBC Orthoptists work closely with parents, therapists and educators in pre-school, school and home environments. They perform comprehensive functional vision assessments and provide recommendations to assist children to maximise the use of their vision.

Unsurprisingly, the needs of the child are at the forefront of this support. Feedback from teachers, therapists and parents is sought prior to assessment, to best understand what the child, parents and teachers wish to achieve.

Following these discussions, an orthoptist conducts a functional vision assessment in the child’s natural settings, in the classroom or in the home. Performing vision assessments in school or home environments allows the orthoptist to gain information about how the child uses their vision during everyday activities. This functional information is difficult to obtain in a clinical setting. 

A wide range of information can be obtained from a functional vision assessment. The orthoptist uses the assessment to identify appropriate solutions for the child and makes individualised recommendations in a comprehensive report. The orthoptic report often contains the following information:

  • Results of formal tests, for example, visual acuity (how clearly a person can see at near and in the distance); visual field (how well a person can see in their peripheral vision); and ocular motility (the alignment of a person’s eyes and their ability to move their eyes into different positions).
  • The child’s print requirements including the appropriate print size, font type and paper colour, assisting the child to access information in the near position, comfortably.
  • Observations of how the child uses their vision across a range of activities.
  • Strategies that may assist the child to visually engage with their environment.
  • How lighting and positioning in the classroom can be adapted to assist the child to access visual information presented in the distance and on the board.
  • Environmental considerations to ensure the child can safely navigate the school environment.
  • Appropriate low vision aids and devices to magnify near and distant information.

mage of a CPR instruction sheet with a magnifier.

A magnifier is a low vision aid.

According to RIDBC Senior Orthoptist, Alison Byrne “The needs of children are unique and individual, requiring specific, tailored solutions”.

The orthoptist strongly advocates for children with vision impairment to have equal access to information, allowing them to be independent. Alison comments, “Working on strategies that promote and foster independence is vital”. Independence, as Alison explains, often leads to improved confidence and social relationships for children.

According to Alison, the role of an RIDBC orthoptist is also to be proactive. “We are always thinking about what is next for the child and assisting to prepare them for the next educational challenge” including  school transitions, from pre-school to kindergarten and primary school to high school; and school examinations.

For an orthoptist, the relationship with an ophthalmologist is vital. An ophthalmologist is an eye specialist who diagnoses eye conditions. An ophthalmologist’s report provides the child’s diagnosis which the orthoptist uses in preparation for the assessment and for assisting in decision making on the best type of support for the child.

“Collaborative relationships result in better outcomes for the child” Alison says. “It is rewarding to support children to become independent young people, and to assist parents and professionals to better understand their child’s vision impairment.”

The team at RIDBC are regular contributors at professional events. Next week’s National Orthoptic Conference in Sydney (9-11 November 2019) will see five speakers from RIDBC.

The orthoptic team at RIDBC have developed several resources to assist in understanding vision impairment. You can access them here.


Image of a cartoon baby with a teddy bear and toys, recurring three times, getting progressively clearer to indicate how a person with vision impairment may see the same image.

Accessing an RIDBC orthoptist

An RIDBC orthoptic assessment does not require a referral, children and adults with vision impairment can access the service, either self-funded or via the NDIS.

RIDBC orthoptists also provide educational support to schools and students with vision impairment by providing information relating to curriculum access.

To enquire about the services an RIDBC orthoptist offer please contact info@ridbc.org.au or call 1300 581 391.

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