Children's Vision Development

Infant's Vision:

Did you know your baby also has to learn to see?  There are many things that you can do to help your baby's vision develop.

At about age six months, you should take your baby to your optometrist for his or her first thorough eye examination. Things that the optometrist will test for include excessive or unequal amounts of prescription, eye movement ability as well as eye health problems. These problems are rare, but early detection is key.

Vision development and eye health problems can be more easily corrected if treatment is begun early. If all is well, your child's next examination should be around age three, and then again before he or she starts kindergarten.

Birth to 4 months:

Your baby should begin to follow moving objects with their eyes and reach for things as hand-eye coordination and depth perception begin to develop. To help develop good eye coordination, use a nightlight or other dim lamp in your baby's room; change the crib's position every so often and your child's position in it.  Use age appropriate toys within your baby's focus range, about eight to twelve inches.  Alternate right and left sides with each feeding and hang a mobile above and outside the crib.

From 4-8 months:

Your baby should begin to turn from side to side and use his or her arms and legs. Eye movement and eye/body coordination skills should develop further and both eyes should be working equally. Allow your baby to explore different shapes and textures with his or her fingers.  Allow your baby the freedom to crawl and explore.

From 8-12 months:

Your baby should be moving and shaking by now, crawling and pulling him or herself up. He or she will begin to use both eyes together and judge distances and grasp and throw objects with greater precision. To support development don't encourage early walking - crawling is important in developing eye-hand-foot-body coordination.  Give your baby stacking and take-apart toys and provide objects your baby can touch, hold and see at the same time.

From 1-2 years:

Your child's eye-hand coordination and depth perception will continue to develop and he or she will begin to understand abstract terms. Things you can do are encourage walking; provide building blocks, simple puzzles and balls; and provide opportunities to climb and explore indoors and out.

Pre-School Vision:

During infant and toddler years, your child has been developing many visual skills. In the preschool years, this process continues, as your child develops visually guided eye-hand-body coordination, fine motor skills, and the visual motor skills necessary to learn to read.  As a parent, you should watch for signs that may indicate a vision development problem, including:

  • A short attention span for the child's age.
  • Difficulty with eye-hand-body coordination in ball play and bike riding.
  • Avoidance of coloring and puzzles and other detailed activities.

There are things you can do at home to help. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Reading aloud to your child and letting him or her see what you are reading.
  • Providing a chalkboard, finger paints and different shaped blocks and showing your child how to use them.
  • Providing opportunities to use playground equipment like a jungle gym, swings and balance beams, safely.
  • Allowing time for interacting with other children and for playing independently.

By age 3:

Your child should have a thorough optometric eye examination to make sure your preschooler's vision is developing properly and there is no evidence of eye disease. If needed, your doctor can prescribe treatment including glasses and/or vision therapy to correct a vision development problem.

Here are several tips to make your child's optometric examination a positive experience:

  • Make an appointment early in the day to avoid end of the day fatigue or nap times.
  • Allow about one hour.
  • Talk about the examination in advance and encourage your child's questions.
  • Explain the examination in your child's terms, comparing the eye chart to the alphabet they have learned and the instruments to tiny flashlights.

Unless recommended otherwise, the next eye examination should be at age five.

School-Age Vision:

Your child's eyes are constantly in use in the classroom and at play.  So when his or her vision is not functioning properly, learning and participation in recreational activities will suffer.  The basic vision skills needed for school use are:

  • Near Vision: The ability to see clearly and comfortably at 10-20 inches.
  • Distance Vision: The ability to see clearly and comfortably beyond arm’s reach.
  • Binocular coordination: The ability to use both eyes together.
  • Eye movement skills: The ability to aim the eyes accurately, move them smoothly across a page and shift them quickly and accurately from one object to another.
  • Focusing skills: The ability to keep both eyes accurately focused at the proper distance to see clearly and the change focus quickly.
  • Peripheral awareness: The ability to be aware of things located to the side while looking straight ahead.
  • Eye/hand coordination: The ability to use the eyes and hands together.

If any of these or other vision skills is lacking or does not functions properly, your child will have to work harder. This can lead to headaches, fatigue, eyestrain, poor reading skill, poor handwriting, frustration and decreased attention for near work. As a parent, be alert for symptoms that may indicate your child has a vision or visual processing problem. Be sure to tell your optometrist if you child frequently:

  • Loses their place while reading.
  • Avoids close work.
  • Holds reading material closer than normal.
  • Tends to rub their eyes.
  • Has frequent headaches.
  • Turns or tilts head to use one eye only.
  • Makes frequent reversals when reading or writing.
  • Uses finger to maintain place when reading.
  • Omits or confuses small words when reading.
  • Consistently performs below potential.

Since vision changes can occur without you or your child noticing them, your child should visit the optometrist at least every year, or more frequently, if specific problems or risk factors exist. If needed, the doctor can prescribe treatment including eyeglasses, contact lenses or vision therapy. Remember, a school vision or pediatrician's screening is not a substitute for a thorough eye examination.


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