Assessments & investigations of vision – some helpful tips!

It is common to hear that we ‘do visual stimulation’ with students with visual impairments, and it will prove to be beneficial for all ages. But to do this, we must find something which the student is interested in looking at! We must also investigate how the student sees. I would always recommend a formal visual function assessment by a skilled assessor, but the reality is that these people are often in short supply and may not be available to you.

So how do you investigate what your pupil/student can see at the moment?  


Using a vast armoury of appropriate visual stimulus in the multi sensory room or studio we must try to find out more. Toys, torches, every day items, visual equipment such as projectors, fibre optics and even bubble tubes; could be used to build up a profile of the pupil’s/student’s visual skills.  What you will not be able to do is to identify the type visual impairment your pupil/student presents with. But you may notice behaviours which indicate that he/she sees better from the side,which may, for example, indicate macular degeneration.  

Some helpful tips for your visual investigations.

  • Find things, which the student likes or wants! You wouldn’t look at things which don’t interest you!  
  • Use favourite objects, then move on to other things.
  • Make sure the student is in a comfortable and appropriate position to access the presented effect.
  • Work at the student’s own pace and give them plenty of time to respond.
  • If the student shows signs of distress, stop!
  • If you are giving verbal prompts, make sure the student is reacting to the light – not you.
  • Use torches to start with – you may find them easier to manipulate. Then move on to projected images: big, small, close, far, dull and bright.
  • If using visual equipment with fans, be aware that the student  may be reacting to the sound, not the light.
  • Make sure there are no other sound interruptions.
  • Use bright objects and contrasts to begin, then reduce the brightness and contrast.
  • Remember – the student may react when the light disappears, rather than when it appears.
  • Not all students will see things directly from the front.
  • Work in an area with reduced visual clutter.
  • It does not have to be really dark in the room to do an investigation – try varying background lighting levels.
  • Use reflected light as well as direct light – think survival blankets etc.
  • Will size, colour, shape, as well as intensity, make a difference?
  • Have you tried more than one object?
  • Watch both eyes – a visual impairment often affects just one eye.  
  • It is possible that your pupil/student has a different visual impairment in each eye.
  • Short and regular investigations will be better than one long session every week.


Richard Hirstwood

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