Many disabilities can occur with an eye condition, even though they may not have been the cause of the eye condition. The combination of disabilities involved can have a significant impact on your child. They can impact your child’s ability to learn about the world, to communicate, and to participate independently in daily life.

However, sometimes it is difficult to determine if atypical development is due to a child’s vision or additional disabilities. Regardless of the reason for atypical development, the goal of your child’s educational team should be to provide intervention and opportunities that let your child get to the level that suits their ability and personality.

Supporting your child’s development

Each potential combination of disabilities sets the need to put together a unique team of professionals. Teachers of students with visual impairments (TVIs), special educators, and other service providers such as occupational, physical, and speech/ language therapists are critical resources who support your child’s development. They can work with your family to examine how the combination of your child’s disabilities affects development. They can also develop strategies to support their learning.

A child with cerebral palsy and blindness or low vision will need to overcome both the influence of the cerebral palsy and the lack of sight. A child who is deafblind will require precise intervention strategies to avoid isolation.

Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) create a separate challenge for families and professionals. The fact that children who are blind or low vision tend to develop at a slightly different pace and acquire skills in different fashion present challenges in identifying I/DD. It is certainly possible for a child who is blind or low vision to also have learning disabilities (LD). The standard tests used for I/DD and LD have visual components to them that make their use difficult if not impossible for children with blindness or low vision. The educational team must carefully analyze the findings to determine if the student’s performance is due to the evaluated skill or the student’s ability to interact with the visual components of the test.

How can we go forward without a diagnosis?

  • Establish the current level of skills in the specific area (motor, language, etc.)
  • Find the best approach considering blindness/ low vision
  • Develop the next step or skill in the sequence

The team can proceed to work on the skills. This process is usually fine-tuned as the child’s best learning style and rate is discovered. If no progress is made on a particular skill, consider underlying skills that need to be taught first. An important thing to remember is children with I/DD may need more time to acquire skills, practice them, and master them for completion of tasks. A better curriculum will not push the child through any faster.

Lastly, it is important to move forward with high expectations of your child.

What does this mean for my child’s program?

Focus on the attainment of skills with high expectations of your child acquiring them. If adaptations are made, then progress can be made at their personal rate of attainment. The child who struggles with learning new skills can make progress but may need more time to master the skill. Tasks may need to be broken down into smaller steps with focus on how they are presented to the child who is blind or low vision. Children with I/DD who are also experiencing blindness or low vision may need additional time and practice to acquire some skills.

What is the impact of a learning disability?

Teaching methods and skill acquisition will need adapting or modifying. As previously mentioned, the diagnosis of a child who is blind or low vision with a learning disability is a challenge to those who usually provide the assessments. The hallmark of this child is the vast difference in certain academic areas. When reading is a challenge, but math and verbal skills are excellent, it does indicate a problem.

We all vary in how well we do in certain “subjects” in school. But a student with a learning disability often functions at a level two or three years delayed in one or more subjects. It may take several years of school before the pattern emerges that leads to the speculation of the existence of a learning disability. The important component is to find strategies that work for the child and assist them in overcoming their particular challenge. Does your child have a possible reading learning disability? They may read (braille, large print, or use a magnifier) some material. However, “heavy” reading may be best done by listening if that is their “best” mode.

The team of professionals who are working with your child should establish the way in which your child learns. Adaptions for students who are blind or low vision are well known and relatively easy for the professionals to apply. It is difficult to diagnose some disabilities in children who cannot see well enough for standardized tests to be used. The strategies that work best for your child are the eventual goal regardless of achieving an accurate diagnosis. Does a certain child have a learning disability, or do they just struggle with math? The important answer may lie in mastering the use of a calculator.