Study Identifies Level Of Vision That Alters Child's Development

December 09, 1997

Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center

CHAPEL HILL -- A new study has identified for the first time the level of visual impairment that significantly affects a child's development.

Researchers at the universities of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Colorado have discovered that development in children whose visual acuity was 20/500 or better was significantly better than the development of children whose visual acuity was 20/800 or worse.

The study included 186 visually impaired children, ages 12 months to 73 months, and used data from several sources, including a long-term study directed by Dr. Kay Ferrell at the University of North Colorado.

"Vision impairment in young children can quickly affect a child's development," said Dr. Deborah Hatton, an investigator at UNC-CH's Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center, who coordinated the new study. "For example, if an infant is unable to establish eye contact, bonding with parents, socialization and communication may be more difficult. Thus, the child may not attain developmental milestones in the same sequence and at the same rate as children with normal vision."

Other researchers have found that the lack of vision can interfere with establishing concepts of an object and the environment, Hatton said. Such infants may not be motivated to reach out and move around.

Many children with visual impairment also have additional disabilities, she said. Forty percent of children in the study also had mental retardation or developmental delay.

As expected, children with visual impairment and these disabilities developed more slowly than children with only visual impairment, Hatton said. The most surprising finding was that the level of vision impairment that seemed to have a marked impact on development was the same for children with and children without mental retardation or developmental delay.

"This comprehensive study is the first to identify the level of vision impairment that really begins to affect children's development," said Dr. Don Bailey, director of the Frank Porter Graham Center and one of the researchers. "This gives us important baseline data for future intervention efforts so that children can be more appropriately evaluated."

Results of the study appear in the current issue of the journal Child Development.

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Note: Hatton can be reached at (919) 966-7186
Graham Center Contact: Loyd Little, 966-0867
News Services Contact: David Williamson, 962-8596

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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