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One of the research areas of our Optometry Research Group at Ulster involves the investigation of visual processing and optical performance of children with developmental disabilities, including Down syndrome and cerebral palsy. Techniques such as objective refraction, higher order aberrations, advanced imaging, electrodiagnostic and clinical techniques have furthered our knolwedge and help influence the diagnosis and clinical management of visual disorders in these groups. Ongoing study will further refine our understanding of the impact of developmental disability on visual function, maximize visual outcomes and optimize clinical care.

The team are interested in how knowledge of the atypical visual system can inform what is critical for the typical visual system to develop normally, and what are triggers for amblyopia, anisometropia and atypical refractive errors. Our work involves collaboration with other eye care professionals and researchers as well as stakeholders including parents, schools, paediatricians and teachers of the visually impaired. We recognise the importance of dissemination and translation of research findings beyond the scientific community to practitioners, clinicians, parents and charities and have developed links with all these stakeholders in order to maximise the impact of this research.

The importance of improving clinical assessment and management of patients is also the impetus behind the group's development of a commercial tool for the objective assessment of focusing. The Ulster-Cardiff Accommodation Rule (or UC-Cube), developed in collaboration with colleagues at Cardiff University, is the first commercially available tool that allows rapid, clinical assessment of focusing accuracy without the need for the patient to communicate. This is particularly important when assessing children with special needs as our research and that of others has shown that this group are at high risk for poor focusing which will impact on vision and learning if left undetected and unmanaged. The device provides normative data with which to compare clinical measures. It was launched in 2011 and has received a great deal of interest from the profession.

The Projects

  • SEE project

    The aim of this research study is to find out more about the vision and visual health of children in Special Educational schools in Northern Ireland, how vision affects classroom activities and whether children in Special Education benefit from having their eyes tested in the familiar and convenient environment of their school.  Further information on this project is available here.

  • Autism

    We recently completed a large-scale study investigating visual function in children with Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in Northern Ireland.

    We have also worked with the National Autistic Society to produce information for what to expect from an eye test

    We are part of an Autism Research Hub which was developed from recommendations which stemmed from the Autism ACT (NI) 2011 and the consequent implementation of the NI Autism Strategy. The aim of the Autism Research Hub at Ulster University is to identify and enhance multi-disciplinary expertise in autism research and the translation of this knowledge into practice.

  • Down syndrome

    We have ongoing studies investigating vision in Down Syndrome (DS).  We know children with DS are more likely to have vision problems such as high refractive errors and difficulty focussing accurately.  Our studies have included looking at the structure of the DS eye (aberrations and cataracts), as well as functional aspects, including the well-known deficits in accommodation (focussing).

  • Working with SeeAbility

    We have been working with SeeAbility to determine how to ensure a child’s vision needs are communicated clearly and easily understood by both parents and teachers.  One key aspect of this is the creation of a jargon-free report which explains all aspects of a child’s vision following a vision assessment . Included in this report are any modifications or adjustments a child may need to ensure they are making the best use of their vision e.g. recommendations for font/text size and style, most suitable seating position in the classroom, need to wear glasses etc.

    An example of this report can be downloaded here.