Impact of visual impairment on balance and visual processing functions in students with special educational needs

Kai Yip Choi, Ho Yin Wong, Hoi Nga Cheung, Jung Kai Tseng, Ching Chung Chen, Chieh Lin Wu, Helen Eng, George C. Woo, Allen Ming Yan Cheong

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Vision is critical for children’s development. However, prevalence of visual impairment (VI) is high in students with special educational needs (SEN). Other than VI, SEN students are prone to having functional deficits. Whether visual problems relate to these functional deficits is unclear. This study aimed to assess the impact of vision on visual processing functions and balance in SEN students through a community service.

Visual acuity (VA) and contrast sensitivity were measured in a total of 104 (aged 14.3±4.3) SEN students as the visual outcomes, followed by retinoscopy. Visual processing function assessment included facial expression recognition by card matching examiner’s facial expression matching, and visual orientation recognition. Dynamic balance, by Timed Up and Go test, and static standing balance (postural sway in double-legged standing with feet-together and tandem-stance for open-eye and closed-eye conditions) were assessed. Static balance was presented in terms of the maximal medial-lateral and antero-posterior sways.

Of the 104 students, 62 (59.6%) were classified as visually impaired according to WHO classification of visual impairment based on presenting distance acuity. Ocular problems (e.g. optic nerve anomaly, uncorrected/ under-corrected refractive errors) and neurological anomalies were the major causes of vision loss. VA was positively associated with visual processing functions (all p ≤ 0.01), as SEN students with better vision tended to perform better in visual orientation and facial expression recognition tasks, as well as dynamic balance function (p = 0.04). For the static balance, postural sway and VA showed a positive relationship under open-eye and tandem stance conditions. However, the relationship between postural sway and VA became negative under closed-eye and tandem stance conditions.

This study found a high prevalence of SEN students with visual impairment, in which many of them were undetected. Optometric examination is important to improve their visual function to minimize the effect of vision on functional performance. Vision is critical in visual processing as well as playing an important role in maintaining balance in SEN students.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0249052
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number4 April
Publication statusPublished - 29 Apr 2022


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