Focusing on problem in children with Down syndrome

Ulster University eye-tracking research identifies accommodation issues in Down syndrome patients


The intermediate cause behind near-object vision struggles in Down syndrome children has now been found: poor accommodation.

The three-year Ulster University study that made the discovery brings researchers closer to understanding the ultimate cause behind the visual problems commonly seen in Down syndrome patients.

Lead researcher, Dr Julie-Anne Little, evaluated the near vision of 41 study participants aged between 6 and 16 with the genetic condition, caused when a child’s cells contain an extra chromosome 21.

She used video eye tracking and infrared photo-refraction to record how the children moved their eyes and viewed objects while watching an animated movie. Accommodation, vergence and pupil size were all evaluated.

Dr Little then compared these results with those of 76 children with normal development.

She told OT: “Our research clearly found that children with Down syndrome try to see but fail to focus. Future research should now explore the possibility of a neurological or muscular anomaly in the optics of the Down syndrome eye.”

Dr Little said optometrists had in recent years become aware of the need to check accommodation in patients with Down syndrome. In the study, three out of four children with the condition struggled with focusing ability.

She noted: “[Optometrists] should be encouraged to prescribe additional reading lenses or bifocals where applicable.”

Dr Little added: “Children with Down syndrome are known to be visual learners but from an early age they can have vision problems. It is therefore important that their visual needs are met in order to maximise their educational development and quality of life.”