Dr Woodhouse has spent the last 41 years in the School of Optometry and Vision Sciences at Cardiff University, where she has become well-known for her research into the visual requirements of children with learning disabilities, much of which has been pivotal to our understanding today.
Sharing details of how her research began, Dr Woodhouse explained that it happened by chance when she was working with two post-doctoral research colleagues who were interested in amblyopia and squint.
The researchers were hindered in their work because of the lack of history which could be gleaned from the adult subjects they were testing. Taking action, together with Dr Woodhouse they established a children's clinic at the university, securing publicity in the local press in order to attract patients.
However, "no typical little children showed up because they were being treated well at the hospital," explained Dr Woodhouse. "Yet who did turn up were children and adults with learning disabilities."
Discussing this time, the optometrist said: "They turned up and we had no more idea of what to do than anyone else. Therefore it was an enormous learning curve. There wasn't much in the literature, so mainly we learnt as we went along."
Since then, Dr Woodhouse and her team have been studying the visual development in a group of more than 250 children and young people with Down’s syndrome for over 20 years. Today, patients attend the clinic from all over the world, including Nigeria, Gibraltar, France and Switzerland.
During her career, Dr Woodhouse has jointly developed a number of tests which are used in practice today to aid with the vision testing of this cohort of patients. These include the Cardiff Acuity Test, the Cardiff Contrast Test and the Cardiff Near Test. "They were developed out of necessity and curiosity as suitable tests and techniques that allowed us to examine these children and adults with disabilities simply didn't exist at the time," she said.
One of the group's most important findings is that vision is worse in children with Down’s syndrome than in typical children of the same age, and it remains worse even when the children have glasses – therefore, parents and schools need to be aware of that and make modifications to the learning environment. Another is that their accommodation is poor and that bifocals are of benefit to them.