An interview with Ashwin Reddy, Consultant Paediatric Ophthalmologist
“It is important parents understand that although their child has a disability, there is still much they can do in the future.”
As a consultant Paediatric Ophthalmologist, Ashwin Reddy frequently sees families who are dealing with the life-changing news that their child has a visual impairment.
“When a child receives a diagnosis, naturally the parents are usually very upset and distressed,” he explains. “This is compounded by the fact that they are often dealing with a diagnosis of other serious health problems, for example, in the case of retinoblastoma (cancer of the eye) they may even be facing the potential of losing their child.”
Ashwin’s team works closely with the RSBC Family Support Service, as Barts NHS Health Trust and Moorfields Eye Hospital is one of several hospitals in the country with a resident RSBC Family Support Service Sight Loss Advisor.
In house advice
Michelle, the advisor at Ashwin’s hospital, is available to speak to parents at the moment their child is diagnosed with a sight condition, not only to guide them through their distress, but also to advise them on practical considerations like education, housing and benefits.
“Often parents know very little about visual impairment, and have never met anyone living with sight loss, so when their child is diagnosed they have many questions and fears about the future,” says Ashwin.
“Having someone like Michelle who can spend time with the family at that very first diagnosis, and who can answer all their questions, is fantastic.”
Such holistic support has not always been available – traditionally, the focus of therapeutic intervention has been solely on the child. But increasingly, there is a move towards trying to improve the child’s whole environment, and this includes ensuring that parents are able to come to terms with their child’s diagnosis.
“The evidence shows that involving and supporting the parents has a huge positive effect on the outcomes for the child,” says Ashwin.
“When support is not available, and when parents are unable to adjust to the child’s diagnosis, there are long-term negative psychological consequences for the child in terms of how they see themselves and how they handle their condition.
“Essentially, if parents feel that their child’s life chances are limited as a result of a visual impairment, this will affect the child’s own ability to overcome the challenges they may face. It is important that parents understand that although their child has a disability, there is still much they can do in the future.”
Every Blind Child
Although access to a specialist sight loss advisor is widely recommended by paediatric ophthalmologists for families of children diagnosed with sight conditions, no consistent statutory service is available in the UK, leaving many families ill equipped to deal with the practical, social and emotional impact of their child’s sight loss.
Currently, Ashwin’s hospital is one of only a handful in the UK to have its own resident RSBC Sight Loss Advisor. Over the next three years, RSBC aims to increase this number to ensure that the family of every blind child in England and Wales is able to access support.
“The RSBC Family Support Service is very good, and is exactly the kind of support that we would like to see offered in every hospital,” says Ashwin. “To have specialist advisors integrated with clinics and teams is so important – it makes a massive difference to parents if they can speak to someone face-to-face in a welcoming environment upon initial diagnosis.
“If we don’t have this facility, we have to rely on parents self-referring to charities and self-help organisations. There are a lot of barriers to this – language barriers, the risk of losing or forgetting details, a lack of time to deal with a referral – having someone in-house removes all of these.
“Michelle’s presence also provides a sense of continuity for families – when they return to the hospital there is a familiar face who they know they can trust and turn to for advice.”
The aim of providing access to an RSBC Sight Loss Advisor for every blind child is an ambitious one, and will require significant investment. But the consequences are huge – with the right support in place, children who lose their sight will enjoy more opportunities and better outcomes, giving them the same chance as everyone else to live happy and fulfilling lives.
Find out more about our Family Support Service or donate to our appeal to make sure #EveryBlindChild can be seen by an RSBC Sight Loss Specialist, and given a fair chance to reach their potential. Text "LEARN" to 70025 now to donate £5* or visit our donate online page.
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