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Children's Vision

Did you know?
  • Vision accounts for 80% of all learning in a child's first 12 years.
  • One in six children between the ages of 5 to 12 years has vision problems that can affect reading and learning ability.
  • Children have a "biological time clock" that may affect the success of treatment of eye problems.
  • A child's visual system is usually fully developed by the age of nine.
  • A visual examination can be performed on a child who is too young to read or respond verbally.
How your baby's vision develops

At birth, a baby can see patterns of light and dark, but specific objects are blurred. The infant's world consists of "limited" space, which is never further away than approximately one meter, and most of the child's vision is done with one eye at a time. Only when your child is about one month old will you notice that he/she is able to direct both eyes at the same focal object.

Between the ages of 4 to 6 months the infant will turn his head, not only to follow moving objects, but also when looking towards another object. It is natural to notice the baby's eyes crossing or turning out momentarily, but as the eyes mature, toward 6 months, their gaze should be steady and straight.

By the age of 6 to 8 months your child will be able to gain the same visual information by eye motion only, so head motion for following objects should decrease. Also at this time, both eyes will focus equally.

At 8 to 12 months your child will use both eyes together to judge all distances and develop depth perception. As your child grows (1 to 3 years old), hand-eye coordination will improve and the child will start becoming more aware of its surroundings. At this point, children begin to explore their environment.

How to help in visual development

To encourage visual development, a mobile provides variety and movement during infancy. Changing the position of the crib frequently allows the infant to respond to light from different directions. Large objects placed within the child's focus (20 to 30 cm) are also recommended. As your child reaches 4 to 6 months old, these objects should have texture and detail to help with hand-eye coordination. Games such as peek-a-boo and patty-cake are helpful.

As children begin to crawl, they need to explore their surroundings to improve their vision and coordination.

By the age of 1 to 3 years, reading or telling stories helps with visualization skills and prepares the child for learning to read. Drawing, painting, and colouring allow for the development of visually directed hand movements.

These suggestions are only a few of the ways to aid in visual development. Your creativity and imagination can provide many more other activities that will help during this stage in your child's life.

Indications of visual problems in your child

  • Rubbing the eyes.
  • Headaches, especially after reading.
  • Closing or covering one eye.
  • Squinting when looking at the chalkboard or television.
  • Avoidance of close work, for example reading.
  • Tilting the head to one side.
  • Holding reading material very close.
  • Losing place while reading.
  • Moving the head, instead of eyes, when reading.
  • Persistent letter or word reversal after the second grade.
  • Confusing similar words.
  • Frequently leaving out words.
  • Awkwardness and coordination difficulties.
  • Blurring of visions at any time.
Why is early detection important?

Vision is one of your baby's most vital senses. It is therefore important to begin your child's vision care program at an early stage.

Children have a "biological time clock", meaning that their visual system develops early. Success of treatment is dependent upon early detection of such conditions as strabismus and amblyopia. Strabismus, a misalignment of the eyes, affects one in 25 children. A failure to treat strabismus, a condition not always visible to the untrained observer, may lead to serious and irreversible vision problems. About half the infants and children with strabismus, if untreated, develop amblyopia (lazy eye). A child with this condition may see dimly out of one eye or may see double images because the eyes fail to work together.

Children may reach a point of no return when treatment becomes difficult or impossible because the eyes have stopped developing. Undetected eye disorders may cause children to not function well in school, even though they may be of average or above average intelligence. Such children are then sometimes incorrectly labelled "slow".

When to seek professional care

Schools often do screening tests, and these tests are important, but their value is limited. Most screenings are performed at the age of 5, which is past the age when a majority of visual development has occurred. Therefore, it should not be considered a substitute for a complete visual examination by an eye care professional.

It is recommended that every child be routinely checked by an eye care professional by the time they reach the age of 3, and much earlier if there is a family history of vision or eye problems. These examinations are most important because the child cannot tell you if something is wrong. As far as the child is concerned, it is the normal way to see.

Remember that your child is growing, his eyes are changing, and visual requirements become more demanding. Regular visual examinations are the best way to catch any potential problems as early as possible.

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