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Children’s Vision

Early detection of children’s vision problems is essential to make sure your kids have the visual skills they need to
do well in school, sports and other activities. Vision is arguably the most important of the five senses. It plays a crucial role throughout childhood and beyond.

From infancy on, there are important milestones in your child’s vision development. For example, during the first several months of life, a baby can focus only on objects up close. Those objects will be seen in high contrast colors only, such as black, white and red. But by six months of age, your child’s visual acuity should be much sharper, with more accurate color vision and better eye movement and eye-hand coordination skills.

At this point you should have your child’s eyes examined by a pediatrician or an eye doctor, to make sure their eyes are working together as a team during the early formative years. Otherwise, a lifetime of poor vision in one or both eyes may result

Pre-School Children

During the preschool years from ages 3 to 6, your child will be fine-tuning the vision he has already developed during the infant and toddler years. Young preschoolers are learning to ride tricycles and master the complex hand-eye coordination needed to pedal, steer and watch where they’re going at the same time.

Older preschoolers are learning how to use more sophisticated sports equipment such as and working on the fine motor skills needed to write their names.

At this stage, most children have passed that crucial time during infancy where many childhood visual problems develop. Parents need to look for refractive errors in their preschoolers by watching for these warning signs:

  • Consistently sitting too close to the TV or holding a book too close
  • Squinting
  • Tilting the head to see better
  • Frequent eye rubbing when your child is not sleepy
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Excessive tearing
  • Closing one eye to read, watch TV or see better
  • Avoiding activities which require near vision, such as coloring or reading, or distance vision, such as playing ball or tag
  • Complaining of headaches or tired eyes

Schedule an appointment with your eye doctor if your preschooler exhibits any of these possible refractive error signs. Farsightedness is very common in young children. Excessive farsightedness can lead to strabismus, which is also still very common in children this age. Sometimes the excessive farsightedness can simply be corrected with glasses, and the crossed eye resolves. A severely crossed eye may require surgery. Untreated strabismus can lead to amblyopia. If not treated, eventually the amblyopic eye “shuts off” and vision may be permanently lost.

Nearsightedness, on the other hand, requires immediate correction with glasses. A child’s eye can’t compensate for the blurry distance vision like it can for the blurry near vision. Astigmatism will also lead to blurry, distorted vision if your child has a moderate amount, and requires correction with glasses.

The First Eye Exam

If your child exhibits no symptoms of a refractive error or other visual problems, he should have an eye exam by the age of 6 months, then again at age 3, according to the American Optometric Association (AOA). Having a complete eye exam before the child enters school allows enough time to catch and correct any problems while the visual system retains flexibility and elasticity. Children without symptoms should receive an eye exam again right before beginning school.

School Children

Your child’s vision is the most important tool he has to succeed in school. When his vision suffers, chances are his schoolwork does, too. In fact, up to 25 percent of schoolchildren may have vision problems that can affect their ability to learn, according to the College of Optometrists in Vision Development. School-age children also spend a lot of time in recreational activities that require good vision. After-school team sports or playing in the backyard aren’t as fun if you can’t see well.

Refractive errors (poor visual acuity or the presence of astigmatism) are eyecare practitioners’ main concern for school-age children. Parents, as well as teachers, should keep a watchful eye out for these 13 signals that a child’s vision needs correction:

  • Consistently sitting too close to the TV or holding a book too close
  • Losing his place while reading
  • Using a finger to follow along while reading
  • Squinting
  • Tilting the head to see better
  • Frequent eye rubbing
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Excessive tearing
  • Closing one eye to read, watch TV or see better
  • Avoiding activities which require near vision, such as reading or homework, or distance vision, such as participating in sports or other recreational activities
  • Complaining of headaches or tired eyes
  • Avoiding using a computer, because it “hurts his eyes”
  • Receiving lower grades than usual

Schedule an appointment with your eyecare practitioner if your child exhibits the above signs.

Learning Related Vision Problem

Vision and learning are intimately related. In fact, experts say that roughly 80 percent of what a child learns in school is information that is presented visually. So good vision is essential for students of all ages to reach their full academic potential.

When children have difficulty in school — from learning to read to understanding fractions to seeing the blackboard — many parents and teachers believe these kids have vision problems. And sometimes, they’re right. Eyeglasses or contact lenses often help children better see the board in the front of the classroom and the books on their desk. Ruling out simple refractive errors is the first step in making sure your child is visually ready for school. But nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism are not the only visual disorders that can make learning more difficult.

Less obvious vision problems related to the way the eyes function and how the brain processes visual information also can limit your child’s ability to learn. Any vision problems that have the potential to affect academic and reading performance are considered learning-related vision problems.