Cerebral palsy is linked to a number of associated conditions, including vision problems. Not all children with cerebral palsy will experience vision problems, but it’s recommended to start early intervention as soon as possible for children whose vision is affected.
Types of Vision Impairment Associated with Cerebral Palsy
Causes of visual impairment in children with cerebral palsy are broken up into eye issues and neurological issues:
Cerebral Visual Impairment
Cerebral visual impairment (CVI) is a form of visual impairment caused by brain damage. The severity of the visual impairment depends on what part of the brain is damaged and how serious the damage is.
Symptoms of CVI include:
- Difficulties with focusing while looking at objects
- Blurred vision
- Field vision loss
- Problems making fast eye movement
- Trouble recognizing familiar faces
Not all children will exhibit every symptom. Additionally, the symptoms do not get worse over time. In fact, with treatment, the symptoms may improve. Although there currently isn’t a medical treatment for CVI, children often benefit by getting the appropriate prescription glasses, contact lenses, or other aids that help with vision.
Eye Visual Impairment
Some children with cerebral palsy will experience vision issues due to problems with their eyes as opposed to brain damage. The most common type of vision problems associated with eye impairment include:
Strabismus is medical condition marked by the eyes turning in different directions. For example, one eye turns upwards while the other eye turns downwards, or one eye turns inward while the other eye turns outwards. The condition can lead to blurred vision and amblyopia, also known as “lazy eye,” which in turn can cause the brain to ignore signals from the eyes.
Eye exercises and prescription glasses are typical treatment options for strabismus. In some instance, the child may need to wear a patch over the “lazy eye,’ which helps to improve vision in the eye. For children who need additional medical assistance after the aforementioned options have been exhausted, physicians may recommend surgery to help control eye movement.
Hyperopia also known as long-sightedness, is another visual impairment caused by eye issues that can affect children with cerebral palsy. Symptoms include the ability to clearly from far away but when objects are up close, they become blurry and out of focus.
Prescription glasses or contact lenses typically help correct issues, but surgery is also possible if corrective vision devices fail to work.
Signs Your Child May Have Vision Problems
Children usually don’t understand that they may have eyesight issues, so it’s up to you as a parent or caregiver to look for signs and symptoms that there may be issues.
Some of the most common signs that your child may have vision problems include:
- Covering eyes while trying to read
- Slow speech and language development skills
- Moving the head while reading (as opposed to moving eyes)
- Underdeveloped hand/eye coordination
- Eye squinting when reading or focusing on objects
- Holding books or other materials close to the eyes when reading
- Frequent headaches
Getting a Diagnosis For Your Child
If you feel your child may have vision issues, you should schedule an appointment with an ophthalmologist as soon as possible, preferably one who has experience with children with cerebral palsy. If you need assistance finding an ophthalmologist or for a referral, be certain to speak with your child’s pediatrician.
A typical visual problem exam to get an accurate diagnosis generally consists of:
- Eye movement and eye pressure exam
- Vision distance exam
- Exam to determine color-blindness
- Refraction test
- Dilation test
An ophthalmologist will also look for any eye obstructions, infects, or cataracts, as well as how well the child’s eyes react to stimuli.