What to expect from a visit to an Orthoptist

Orthoptists are trained specialists in diagnosing and providing non-surgical management of disorders of eye movements and associated vision defects.

BIOS, the British and Irish Orthoptic Society, has produced a series of guides to talk you through a typical visit to an Orthoptist. Please click the links below to see your chosen guide.

For people with learning disabilities or autism please select below

A new RNIB guide to outdoor play

The Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) has recently released a new guide, Messy and Muddy, which explores outdoor play for children living with sight loss. The new guide offers advice for encouraging a child with vision impairment to get ‘messy and muddy’ and how to support natural development in a safe, accessible and fun way.

“Exploring outside helps children develop mobility and independence skills; it can provide tangible contexts for learning about literacy and numeracy; it helps them face challenges and take risks; importantly, it provides the perfect opportunity to have fun with friends and stay active.”

Download the free guide, here.

Children’s health: why vision matters

When an infant is diagnosed with nystagmus, it’s very important to ensure that the child continues to have regular sight tests and check ups to make sure that other problems with the vision are identified and treated. That’s the message coming loud and clear from a recent report by the UK Vision Strategy team.

As a parent or carer, we’re best placed to notice any early signs that things are not as they should be. These can be related to behaviour as well as more obvious indications. We also need to know about sight testing available and remember that it’s free to everyone under the age of 16.

For full details, please visit the Association of Optometrists website.

Nystagmus Network article published

To achieve our objective of raising greater awareness of nystagmus, the charity publishes articles from time to time on different aspects of the condition. The article we submitted for publication most recently is entitled Wobbly Eyes and explains nystagmus in language a young child can understand. The text is adapted from our free to download publication with the same title. Download your copy here.

A child swimming underwater.

How amazing are you?

Have you done something amazing, something you never thought possible, because you have nystagmus?
Has your child exceeded all your expectations?
If so, we want to hear from you.
Last year we heard about the fantastic swimming and fundraising achievements of Annabelle, Tyler and Poppy. This year we want to hear your stories.
Between now and 20 June, Nystagmus Awareness Day, we’re collecting all those lovely stories of adults and children who’ve achieved great things despite having nystagmus, or maybe even because they do.
We’ll feature all the best stories right here on our blog and on our Facebook page, so everyone can celebrate with us your amazing nystagmus successes.
If you’d like to help us to support everyone with nystagmus to be amazing, please text ZING18 £5 to 70070. Thank you.
Please complete the form to let us know about your amazing nystagmus success story.

Nystagmus Awareness Day – for snow men!

Whilst we are all looking forward to the very first Nystagmus Awareness Day in the summer – on Wednesday 20 June – for those of you who miss the old days, when Nystagmus Awareness Day was celebrated in November, you can get this year’s ‘Wobbly Week’ off to a great start by coming sledging or skiing with us at the Snow Dome, Milton Keynes.

Jamie Fuller, from the Outspan Rebels VI ski team, is organising the first of two amazing Nystagmus Network Snow Camps. It takes place on Sunday 17 June.

There will be skiing and sledging for adults and children with nystagmus, their fully sighted parents, siblings and friends. Everyone is welcome to come along. Each session costs just £10 per person.

Charlotte Evans MBE will be there on the day along with Jamie and the Outspan Rebels, themselves. There might even be a few very special visitors!

It is sure to be a great day. So please join us if you can. To register your interest, please contact us.

To make a donation for Nystagmus Awareness Day, please visit our Justgiving page. Thank you.

Hana's daughter

I’m the parent I never thought I’d be

I had always planned on being a laid back parent. My son, born with perfect vision, had been a breeze. And then my daughter entered school. Even though she had albinism and nystagmus, I assumed I’d continue being easy breezy. I would explain the accommodations she needed, the teachers would listen, and we would all go merrily on our way.

While somewhere in the back of my mind I probably knew that this was an unlikely scenario, I still wanted it to be true. No one could tell me for certain what kind of accommodations she’d need because no one knew exactly what her capabilities were. Maybe her vision wouldn’t be that bad. Or maybe it would be terrible. But I was pulling for “not that bad” and if “not that bad” turned out to be the case, then maybe we could squeak by with only minimal accommodations. And maybe I could continue being the laid back parent I wanted to be.

Preschool went well. She sat in front on the rug. Her teachers let her come up and look closely at books being read to the class. See – not that bad, this whole visual impairment thing. And then my daughter’s vision teacher suggested she take a test to see if she could qualify for the gifted program in New York City, where we live. My son was in the program already and loved it. It made sense that my daughter would qualify for the program too. I checked off a box on a form requesting a large print test, and thought, maybe that’s all she needs. Maybe we go through life checking off boxes for large print tests, and everything else just goes according to plan. But when the results came back, it was obvious that large print tests were not going to be enough.

When I called the department of education to say I thought perhaps she hadn’t been able to see the large print test, they dismissed me. Not everyone qualifies for the program, they said. Clearly I was just another pushy mother who felt her child’s genius hadn’t been properly evaluated. It’s possible that if I’d been listened to the first time I might have continued being the laid back parent of my dreams, or maybe this was the inevitable shaking I needed – someone grabbing me by the shoulders and saying: if you don’t stand up and yell for your daughter, no one else will do it.

So I stood up and yelled. And many months and meetings later, the department agreed to give my daughter the test in a digital format where she could control the size and the contrast. Lo and behold: she tested into the program. But it’s hard to be the screaming mother all the time. And by the time my daughter started Kindergarten I thought: I got this. I got the largest department of education in the country to change the way they test visually impaired children, after all. Surely I can navigate Kindergarten.

I met with my daughter’s teachers before school started to walk them through the technology she’d be using. The rules, which were new to me then but I can now recite in my sleep: she sits in the front of the class, she uses an iPad, please remember to charge her CCTV. And then one day my daughter came home and said she hadn’t been able to see her math test. So I emailed her teachers.

“But she didn’t say she couldn’t see the test,” they wrote back. “And also, she got all the questions right.”

I picked up the phone and called the teachers, and said the words that I now know I will be repeating often and for the rest of my life: just because she did well doesn’t mean that with the correct accommodations she can’t do better. I wish the cadence were better, that there was a short poem I could write or a snappy six word phrase that could convey the same information, but if there is I haven’t found it. Nonetheless, this has become my mantra.

Last month my daughter started first grade. At the meeting before school with her teachers I shared the story of the math test and the gifted test. We also discovered together that her reading level had been assessed incorrectly.

“We are navigating this together,” I said to the teachers. “If we’re not partners then it’s not going to work, and I’m going to be calling you up saying she couldn’t see something.”

I don’t know if I came across as an overlycrazed helicopter parent or not, but I don’t care. This is the kind of parent I am now. The next week, when my daughter came home from school with a book at her correct reading level, accompanied by a CCTV and a note from her teachers asking if I might be able to download the book to her iPad, I knew that this is how it will be from here on out. I can luxuriate in being laid back with my son, but when it comes to my daughter, I’m the parent I never thought I’d be. And I’m okay with that.

George and his mum

George has nystagmus – goodbye!

My son, George, has congenital idiopathic nystagmus. The terminology may be familiar to ophthalmologists, but it’s baffling to anyone else. In George’s case, no one can identify a cause.

So begins our story of discovery about nystagmus, what it means to those who have it, to those around them and the shocking ignorance of people who should know better.

George was born without complications in July 2006. I knew there was an issue when, unlike his older sisters, he struggled to make eye contact during feeding and his eyes wobbled constantly. At 5 months the local GP sent us for video sight testing, which he failed. The follow up appointment with the consultant lasted 5 minutes and went along the lines of “George has nystagmus; he will never go to a mainstream school; an optometrist will see him yearly. Good bye.”

It took another year to research consultants who specialised in nystagmus, hold the consultant to ransom for a referral and finally, aged 18 months, we were on the list for Prof Gottlob’s clinics in Leicester – a 5 hour drive from home.

Over the next few years George fell down steps, walked into walls, screamed in shock when anyone spoke to him in his pushchair. He would run to cuddle or hold hands with any woman bearing a vague resemblance to me, recoiling in horror when they spoke.

When George started school, the teachers were provided with a Nystagmus Network information pack. I told them I had no idea how the condition was going to affect him at school, but I did know he would struggle to identify friends with everyone in school uniform and they would need to show him the difference between the girls’ and boys’ toilets!

The impact of nystagmus became real in February 2015 when George was 8.5 years old. He ran into a wall during a PE lesson, a teacher asked if his constant eye movement was a symptom of autism and I witnessed a child snatch a football off George saying “There’s no point, you can’t see it anyway”. Apparently kicking a ball and hoping for the best isn’t good enough strategy for competitive 9 year olds.

There followed a set of meetings with his teachers and the local authority’s visual impairment advisor. It turned out that George couldn’t see the whiteboard, could only read red text on a blue background and used his listening skills to locate people. He thought this was how all people saw. His exceedingly high academic performance meant we all thought he was coping. When he’s scared or upset, his brain abandons his eyes to control his emotions. At this point he says it’s as though water has filled his eyes and whatever sight he has is gone.

The Nystagmus Network suggested George put together a presentation for his classmates to give them an idea of how the condition affects him. I’ve spent many hours finding activities for him such as blind football, blind sailing and soundball (tennis) which is opening up a new world of sport.

After all this, school still managed to lose him on a day trip to the British Museum. He was left looking at an exhibit and then followed a construction worker in a hi vis jacket into a restricted area thinking he was a teacher. When I asked how George managed his way into an unfamiliar and busy building they replied he held onto the child in front’s rucksack strap. How demeaning.

I’m still angry with school for not bothering to find out more about nystagmus. George has another new, fresh-out-of-university teacher next year so I’ll sound like the paranoid parent going through it all again. He hates my drawing attention to it, but if I don’t, people don’t understand.

At a recent gathering of old friends I asked George why he didn’t say hello. He said he didn’t recognise their voices or see their faces properly. So I said “Well, get up close to see them!” He replied “How would you feel if someone got up close to check out your face?! It’s embarrassing”.

The good news is George is more willing to talk about what he can and can’t see, how annoying it is when traffic crossings don’t beep and looking forward to the day he can ride a bike without me behind shouting instructions. He crosses the road by listening to tyres on tarmac and his ability to decode what he can see with conviction is absolutely extraordinary.

The future? I’ll still be desperately trying to educate teachers and encouraging George outside his comfort zone to approach activities in a slightly different way. He wants to fulfil his dreams of joining the army, but realises he will only be a sniper if the enemy wears hi vis clothing and stands still. He may stand more chance on the technical/engineering side or he can join the Paralympian football team.

He still holds my hand in unfamiliar environments and for that, I’m grateful. He can’t find me in the audience at school performances. For that, too, I’m grateful as I’m often late. I love his imagination and interpretation of the world he hears. His speech is so eloquent that he is a testament to the power of listening. He may not see as well as other children, but that doesn’t mean his dreams for his future have to be sacrificed.