Supporting infants and children with vision loss

Do you know that we offer a lifetime of service for anyone with vision impairment, including supporting infants and children with vision loss?

We have clients as young as just a few months old referred to us by health specialists. They join us under our Children and Youth Services Department – also known as CAYS. Clients can join us very young and stay with us into their teenage years before progressing into our Adult Services (Independent Living Services ILS).

What sets us apart is that we are vision-specific. It means that if your child receives a diagnosis at a very young age, you can enjoy continuity of service. We can offer support for many years from experts in the field of no or low vision because we are a one-stop shop for vision loss.

If you are a parent and have a child who’s already a client, you may have come across CAYS joint Program Managers Ruth Lee (Senior Physiotherapist) and Laura Hawkins (Senior Psychologist) and joint Team Leaders – Senior Speech Pathologist Helena Challis and Senior Occupational Therapist Paige Holmes.

Helena, Ruth and Laura stand next to each other with green trees behind them
The CAYS team is headed up by Helena, Ruth and Laura

All have extensive child therapy experience. As Ruth explains, CAYS offers a wrap-around service.

“We have a community of therapists working together in an integrated service to attain the best outcomes for your child. The proverb ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ rings true in our case.”

Ruth Lee – CAYS Program Manager

“Therapists working with the same child collaborate together with the family, to establish goals to maximise outcomes. A speech therapist may work alongside a dietitian or an occupational therapist with a physiotherapist,” adds Ruth.

VisAbility offers a family-centred approach which is a way of working in partnership with parents and guardians. As Joint Program Manager Laura explains, people closest to a child know about their everyday needs the most.

“What a child learns from therapy sessions should be incorporated into their daily routine. It involves a combination of child, parent and family input to achieve positive change. Evidence shows it’s the best approach for a child’s health, development and wellbeing.”

Children and Youth Services

We are a registered NDIS provider supporting infants and children with vision loss as well as teenagers. Most youngsters receive a referral to us from a hospital specialist, an ophthalmologist, or a child health specialist. In some cases, health issues are discovered during neonatal scans.

Not all children are referred to us as infants. They may become a client when they are slightly older when they experience acquired vision loss. It refers to an individual who once had good vision but whose vision has deteriorated – for example through a brain injury or a cancer diagnosis.

As well as offering therapy, we also provide Orientation and Mobility (O&M Services) to support children to move around in physical environments. Our five O&M specialists teach children to use sound, touch, smell and feel to make them aware of what’s around them.

Elijah’s story

On occasions, people come to us through a Google search. That was the case for Mel, whose son Elijah has cerebral palsy.

“Arriving in Perth from England in May, I knew my two-year-old son had vision problems. I was Googling about vision loss and came across VisAbility,” she explains.

“I wanted specialist vision care, so I submitted the referral through myself while waiting for the NDIS plan to be finalised.”

Mel first came to VisAbility Playgroup run by Social Worker Michelle

Our Client Experience Team contacted Mel. She came along to the VisAbility Playgroup held on a Wednesday morning, organised by our Social Worker Michelle Shinnick.

“Not only do I get to meet others at the VisAbility Playgroup and can share experiences about parenting children with vision loss, but my son absolutely loves it. There’s so much colour contrast in the play area. There are sensory activities for Elijah to enjoy in the outside area too.”

“With VisAbility, you have all these vision experts under one organisation, so all the therapists speak to each other. My son has Cerebral Vision Impairment and other disabilities.”

Mel’s first appointment was with Orthoptist Jemila. Through that Orthoptics consultation Mel received a Paediatric Functional Vision Assessment Report about her son Elijah.

“It gave me so much information about what I could do as a parent to help my son, simple things like sitting closer to him, using lots of contrasting colours and avoiding visual crowding.”

At Elijah’s first therapy session, a physiotherapist, speech therapist and occupational therapist came to visit Elijah in his home environment. Together they established the therapy he would need in the coming year and how they could collaborate together to provide the best level of care.

Our approach

When you first come to meet us, we will hold an initial meeting to establish what you and your child want to achieve as CAYS Manager Ruth explains.

“At this meeting, we establish a working document of positive objectives, but it’s fluid and can change.”

Ruth’s colleague Helena explains that the working document undergoes regular reviews.

“The needs of a child will change, so we need flexibility. We may discharge them from a specific therapy if we feel they don’t need it anymore or add a therapy that may benefit them.”

Helena Challis – CAYS Team Leader

“Of course, we have to get the balance right with funding. We will liaise with a support co-ordinator or whoever is managing the plan,” she explains.

“Once a child starts kindy or school, we can advocate on behalf of your child and liaise with teachers to provide what’s best for the child in the classroom with their specific needs and disability.”

Benefits of home-based therapy

Therapists meet children in their home environment or at our base in Victoria Park. At our on-site setting, we have therapy rooms, a brightly coloured soft play area, an outdoor activity garden and an inviting reception area with a range of toys and books.

If the parents prefer, we can meet the child in their home environment offering greater family participation and less anxiety for the child. Parents sometimes prefer this because:

  • There is no sensory overload for the child.
  • Natural surroundings provide better insights into how the therapy will be beneficial.
  • Less distraction because they are in familiar territory.
  • More convenient for families.
  • Toys and resources the child uses are readily available.

Onto adulthood and beyond

Once a child reaches the age of eighteen, they can transition from CAYS to Adult Services which means the continuity of care continues.

We like to think that this is a fairly seamless transition. Adulthood can bring new challenges because routines, roles, and relationships will alter. Therefore, it’s reassuring to have a familiar team offering support.

Your child support with CAYS

We are committed to supporting infants and children with vision loss. Along with offering different therapies, we also provide Group Programs.

  • It Takes Two to Talk (Speech Pathology program by Hanen (link opens in new window) a not-for-profit organisation promoting speech and language skills)
  • More than Words (Speech Pathology program organised by Hanen)
  • Kindy Readiness
  • Big Night Out
  • Coffee Club

How to get support

If you have a diagnosis of vision impairment, please contact our friendly team to find out what low vision services and support we can provide to you both now and into the future.

There are also a number of low vision support groups within Perth and across the state, which can connect you with like-minded people to build friendships and offer support.

If you are a provider and wish to refer a client, please use our low vision medical certificate (online referral form) to make your referral.

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