The first specialist eye clinic in England for people with Down’s syndrome has been launched to help children who struggle with traditional eye tests.
The University of Portsmouth has set up the service, which provides specialist equipment and staff trained to meet the needs of people with the condition.
The facility has been inspired by a clinic operated by Dr Margaret Woodhouse in Cardiff which has a two-year waiting list.
A university spokeswoman said: “People with Down syndrome have a different facial structure needing specialist glasses frames, many children with the condition struggle to read the alphabet, so can’t respond to traditional eye tests, and many are also overwhelmed by crowded, busy places.
“Those with Down syndrome can and do go to high street opticians, but the eye clinic wanted to go further and dedicate more time, specialist equipment and resources to make it simpler for anyone with complex problems.”
The clinic is staffed by skilled optometrists and is equipped to work with people with complex needs, such as children with learning difficulties, autism or cerebral palsy and adults with brain tumours.
The staff have made bespoke non-verbal tests, some using pictures instead of letters, for those who cannot read, and the clinic stocks brands of spectacle frames designed for different facial features.
Eye Clinic director Daniel Stride said: “One of the benefits of our clinic is we are able to dedicate as much clinical time as necessary to our patients and we have seen some patients on numerous occasions.
“It’s humbling to see a scared or distracted child come in and for our staff to have the time and skills to take as long as it takes to get them tested and, if necessary, fitted with frames that give them their sight back.”
Mary Johnson, from Portsmouth, was one of the first to use the service and praised it for helping her daughter Rosie, 14.
She explained that Rosie had been diagnosed with cataracts but was a nervous patient.
Ms Johnson said: “As a mum, you worry. Poor Rosie has already been through a lot, but they were brilliant.
“Staff at the clinic took time to get to know Rosie on the phone before I took her in to get to know her and to understand any anxiety or other issues. They make the whole experience just wonderful.”
Dispensing optician Ian Rampton said: “I don’t think any of us appreciated just how big the unmet need was.
“If we can take a child out of the shadows and make them part of a wider society by trying to improve their vision, then every effort we can make is worth it.”