Socio-cognitive skills in children awith visual impairment

About 4 in every 10,000 infants born each year in the UK will be newly diagnosed with severe visual impairment (VI) or blindness by their first birthday. While this incidence is low, the associated life-long burden of disability and its economic costs are high. Children with visual impairment are also at risk for delays in cognitive functions including shifting and maintaining attention, mental representation of space and difficulties in social understanding. These difficulties create significant challenges in the life of children with visual impairment limiting their academic achievement and impacting on their wellbeing. The vulnerability to poor outcomes in specific areas of development persists even in children with high general cognitive function.The reason for this is currently not known, but it is likely due both to their compromised vision and its knock-on effects on brain development, extending beyond neural regions for basic visual processing.

We will examine the impact of low levels of functional vision on development empirically in school-aged children with mild to moderate, severe and profound visual impairment. We aim to recruit 60 children with different levels of vision and a matched control group with 20 sighted, typically developing children. This work is needed because, while prior work shows that the presence of even low levels of visual function in visually impaired infants initially has a protective role, there is also evidence to suggest that this advantage is drastically reduced by the time children reach school age. Mid-childhood is a particularly important time during development as children are expected to function more independently and interact with peers in the school environment.

The UCL Small Grant will be used to cover material costs for an integral part of the project. Neuropsychology aims to relate behaviours to the function and structure of areas of the brain. Standardised test batteries are used to compare test performance of individuals or groups to the normative sample of the test. This study is the first study to obtain a measure of the cognitive profile of school age children with different levels of VI. General ability, language skills, executive function and social understanding will be assessed. We will use a battery of neuropsychological tools that is suitable for children with VI and allows a direct comparison to past and future studies about VI in other age groups. Further, the parents of the children will fill in questionnaires to measure everyday behaviour and interaction with the caregivers. The grant money will be used to purchase the test and questionnaire forms for this study.

Further, the grant money will be used to refund travel expenses for the families. The families of children with VI will not receive any payment to take part in this study. In order to reduce the burden for the families, we will refund travel expenses up to £30 per family. We will mostly recruit families from the Greater London Area.

Page last modified on 09 sep 16 10:59