The functional vision assessment is a pivotal assessment for children who have low vision. It is an assessment of how a child uses the vision he or she has in everyday life, so it is usually not done with children who are totally blind or have light perception only. Since a child’s visual condition and abilities can change over time, the functional vision assessment needs to be repeated periodically.

A functional vision assessment will investigate how your child uses his vision for

  • near tasks, closer than 16 inches;
  • intermediate tasks, 16 inches to 3 feet; and
  • distance tasks, more than 3 feet away.

This assessment is conducted by the teacher of students with visual impairments or sometimes an orientation and mobility specialist, who uses a combination of formal tests and informal measures, which may differ depending on your child’s age. He or she will review your child’s records, spend time observing your child as he goes through his day, and may interview you, your child, and the regular classroom teacher. Formal tests will include tests to assess:

  • Visual acuity, or how clear and sharp your child’s vision is. It is likely that both your child’s near and distance visual acuity will be measured.
  • Visual field, or the area your child sees to the sides, above, and below (known as the peripheral area of vision).
  • Contrast sensitivity, or the ability of your child to detect differences in grayness and between objects and their background—that is, how clearly your child can see the elements of an image.
  • Color vision, or the ability to detect different colors and also hues within a color.
  • Light sensitivity, or response to light (sunlight or artificial light), which can be extreme for some children with eye conditions such as aniridia and albinism.

Informal measures might include observing your child to see what eye he prefers to use when looking at materials or if he can locate an object in a picture that has a lot of detail.

Based on the information gathered through these various activities, the teacher of students with visual impairments can make recommendations about ways to help your child learn to use his vision more effectively. The recommendations may include:

  • Modifications, or changes to the environment, such as providing additional lighting for certain tasks or seating your child with the glare from the window behind him.
  • Areas of specialized instruction for your child, such as learning to use a magnifier to read print.
  • Adaptations or materials that may assist your child, such as the use of a black marker to increase the contrast between the letters and the paper being used when he writes, or additional time for completing a test.
  • Instructional strategies, such as teaching your child to use his vision to scan all the paint choices at art time, instead of always picking the paint in the container on the right side of the easel because he sees best out of his right eye.
  • Referrals to other professionals, such as an assistive technology specialist or an orientation and mobility instructor, for example, if your child often doesn’t see branches or other objects on his right side that could hurt him.

You should receive a copy of the report written by the teacher of students with visual impairments summarizing the information gathered and the recommendations. It’s important to review your child’s most recent functional vision assessment report before you meet with the other members of his educational team so that you’ll be ready with any comments or questions you want to discuss with them.