Ask an Optom: how can parents and caregivers better support children with complex, special and additional needs during and before an eye test at the optometrist?

In a groundbreaking initiative Autism CRC, the independent national source of evidence for best practice in relation to autism across the lifespan and the spectrum, has embarked on a research-based project to develop an evidence-based framework aimed at transforming the assessment, differentiation and reporting of children's functional strengths and support needs in various clinical settings.

The National Framework for assessing children’s functional strengths and support needs will be appropriate for all children aged 0-12 years with support needs, including but not limited to:

  • developmental delay
  • neurodevelopmental conditions
  • acquired disability
  • other health and medical conditions that result in the need for additional supports

Led by Professor David Trembath from Griffith University and neurodivergent speech pathologist Amy Fitzpatrick, the project promises to place individuals - children and families alike - at the forefront of decision-making processes.

The Framework is being co-produced with a Reference Group comprising representatives from a range of community, professional and Government organisations.

How the Autism CRC National Framework will support parents and caregivers in an optometry setting 

Dr Ursula White, an experienced researcher, optometrist and member of Optometry Australia’s COPE Paediatrics Group, was selected to join the Framework’s Reference Group as a representative of Optometry Australia. 

Dr White believes a visit to the optometrist can be a crucial step in ensuring that children have the best possible support for their learning, participation and overall wellbeing.  

However, developmental differences and delays, along with environmental factors like inaccessible settings and sensory sensitivities and stressors, can present significant challenges for both the child and their caregiver when it comes to visiting the optometrist. 

“Optometrists play a pivotal role in supporting children's holistic health. A collaborative approach between patient, parent and optometrist is required to ensure that the needs of children with disability and additional needs can be fully met within the clinical optometry setting,” said Dr White. 

Here are some practical tips and relevant resources from Dr White to help parents and caregivers best support their child with special or additional needs during a visit to the optometrist’s clinic. 

Preparing your child for their appointment 

Open communication 

Talk to your child about the upcoming eye test in a calm and reassuring manner. Address any concerns they may have and explain what to expect during the appointment. 

Utilise social stories 

Social stories can be invaluable tools, particularly for autistic children. Check if the optometry practice has resources or create one tailored to your child's needs. Online resources, like this social story by Ulster University, can also be beneficial. 


If possible, visit the optometry practice beforehand to help your child familarise themself with the environment, staff and equipment. This can help alleviate anxiety on the day of the appointment. 

Observational learning 

Older toddlers and children can benefit from observing a parent's or sibling's eye exam before undergoing their own. This allows them to watch the process firsthand and understand what to expect. 

Engaging with the optometrist 

Full disclosure is key

Before scheduling the appointment, reach out to the optometry practice to discuss your child's specific needs. Enquire if you can provide relevant information about your child ahead of time (i.e. my child is terrified of the dark, doesn’t like any physical touch, is overwhelmed by too much conversation etc.). Look for a practice that is willing to accommodate such requests. 

Share relevant information

Provide the practice with any pertinent details about your child's preferences, sensitivities and interests. This could include sensory triggers, favourite toys or activities that help calm them. Consider sharing information about strategies used by other therapists to engage your child (i.e. special interests/topics they love to talk about) 

Schedule wisely

Choose appointments during quieter times to minimise sensory overload and wait times. Avoid peak periods, such as school holidays, and opt for mornings when children are typically more alert and likely to be less fatigued, dysregulated and overstimulated. 

Duration of the appointment

 Inquire about the approximate duration of the appointment to prepare your child accordingly. 

You know your child best

Remember – advocating for your child and their needs is paramount in any clinical environment. Don’t be afraid to stand up and speak out for them if you can see they are becoming uncomfortable, stressed or anxious during their appointment.

Additional Resources 

The children's television series Charlie and Lola features an episode titled "I Really Absolutely Must Have Glasses", which can help familiarise younger children with the concept of visiting the optometrist. 

Books like Jesse Explores: Vision and Vision Impairment, co-authored by Dr Danuta Sampson and Gavrielle Untracht, also provide valuable information in an accessible format and are ideal for children who enjoy learning facts.

A final thought 

Preparing for an optometry appointment with a child who has additional needs requires careful planning and proactive communication.  

By collaborating with the optometry practice and utilising available resources, you can help create a positive and supportive experience for your child. 

Community Consultation on the National Framework for assessing children’s functional strengths and support needs is now open until 3pm AEST on Tuesday, 9 April 2024. 

Autism CRC warmly invite input from all members of the community regarding the development of the Framework, as individuals or as an organisation. 

To book an appointment with your local optometrist today, use our easy search tool here and filter by services provided (i.e. special needs, wheelchair accessibility, children’s vision).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *