The move follows the appointment of Dr Flors Vinuela-Navarro, who recently received a Research Excellence Award from the College of Optometrists and the Giles Van Colle Memorial Foundation for her work on eye movements in children, and in particular children with special needs.
Flors undertook the research at Cardiff University, where she worked alongside Dr Maggie Woodhouse OBE, a world leader on visual development in children and young people with Down’s syndrome.
Newly appointed at Aston University, Flors now intends to further develop her research by establishing the Midlands’ first clinic dedicated to diagnosing eye problems for children with conditions including Down’s syndrome, autism, dyspraxia, developmental delays, and ADHD. The new clinic will complement existing paediatric eye services provided by the university’s optometry department.
“According to research conducted by one of the UK’s leading disability charities, children with special needs are 28 times more likely to have eye problems; and we know that over 50 per cent of pupils at special schools need glasses,” explained Flors. “At birth, we all have a specific eye prescription, and as the eye develops we grow out of this prescription. But it’s not the same for children with special needs; their eyes develop differently and they frequently do not grow out of this prescription.
“Unfortunately, these vision deficits aren’t always diagnosed, but we are getting better at identifying problems, and training for optometrists in this specialist area is improving all the time.”
She added: “I have seen children that, for example, don’t enjoy reading, or who display challenging behaviour at school, and what some of them need is a pair of glasses and appropriate support. Wearing glasses or given one-to-one support, suddenly they are enjoying reading or their school behaviour improves because they can see the school material properly and don’t get so frustrated when reading. The impact on the child and on their family is immense.”
Flors explained that if spectacles are unable to correct the problem, making small adaptations could still have a profound effect on a child’s quality of life, and that of their family.
“Some children with special needs move their eyes differently to explore words or pictures on a page. If we can make it easier for them by having bigger pictures so that their eyes don’t have to travel as much across a page, or by giving them more time to respond to a question, this can have a dramatic effect on their enjoyment of reading and learning.”
More than 200 children and teenagers with Down’s syndrome attended the eye clinic at Cardiff University where Flors worked every year, with many travelling with their parents from as far away as Coventry and Manchester due to a lack of local services.
“There are clinics in Wales, Northern Ireland, and London, so Birmingham is an excellent central location to establish a service” said Flors. “Parents are already beginning to learn of our plans – it’s a very close community and they love to see their child taking part in research, because if it can help their child or someone else’s child, they are very supportive.”
The optometry department at Aston University already runs a successful weekly clinic for children with myopia, or short sightedness, and the new clinic for children with special needs will complement the current service as well as enhance training for optometry students.
“There is a lack of expertise in optometry testing of children in general, which is recognised by all the main bodies of optometry, and even less expertise in testing the specific visual issues found in children with special needs. It would really give our students the edge if we can offer training in these areas. It’s not just about the technical knowledge - it’s also about developing skills in working with children, for example using language that children understand.”
Flors received the Giles Van Colle Memorial Award on 14 November, pictured above, at a ceremony in Westminster. The award was presented by Corinne Van Colle, mother of Giles Van Colle, a young London optometrist who had a particular interest in paediatric optometry. The foundation was set up in his memory and the award includes a contribution of over £1,000 to enable Flors to disseminate her research through journals and attending clinical conferences.
Picture by: www.edwardmoss.co.uk
Notes to the editor
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