Welcome to parenthood: Vision 101 for Parents
Your baby’s vision skills have already taken great strides. Tracking moving objects and beginning to reach for things, these are all baby steps that lead toward eye-hand coordination and depth perception.
Mother Nature knew what she was doing when she made a baby’s initial focusing distance 20 – 30 cm., after all, it’s the distance from the crook of your arm (your baby’s favourite place to be!) to your eyes. To encourage healthy vision skills, keep “reach and touch” toys within your child’s focusing distance, alternate right and left sides with each feeding and talk to your baby as you walk around the room. Frequently change the crib position and your child’s position in it and hang a visually stimulating mobile (black and white is a proven favourite) above their crib or change table.
From birth to about age 5 your baby will make sophisticated leaps in vision that are very much like the leaps they’ll make in crawling, walking and talking. During the first five years your child will learn lifelong vision skills – accurately or inaccurately. It’s the development of these skills that lays the foundation for one of their most precious gifts – their vision.
With every examination, your optometrist will determine if your child’s eyes are healthy and working together efficiently.
When should I bring my child for their first eye exam?
Mark it on your calendar. 6 months old – your baby’s first visit to their optometrist!
Don’t worry, there’s no need to have your baby study for this test! They won’t have to read the eye chart in order for an accurate and complete eye examination to be performed. In fact, your optometrist will test for excessive or unequal amounts of nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism; eye movement ability; as well as eye health problems, all in a way that will make you and your baby comfortable and at ease.
There are a few ways to make this first visit most enjoyable:
- Work around fussy times. You know your baby best; schedule your appointment at a time when baby is generally relaxed and happy.
- Ask to have any required paperwork sent to you before the appointment so that it can be filled out at home and brought in on the day of the exam.
- Pat yourself on the back for knowing how vital this first eye exam is and for getting yourself out the door to make it there on time!
From six to twelve months
Your child will be quite mobile (and you’ll likely be much more tired!) Your child is now developing the vision skills necessary to use both eyes together, to judge distances and manipulate their surroundings with greater accuracy. Their play is really their work!
To encourage the development of eye-hand-foot-body coordination, try not to encourage early walking. Crawling and exploring are what they need to be doing right now. Offer toys your baby can touch, hold and see at the same time.
From their first birthday to their third birthday
During this stage eye-hand coordination and depth perception will continue to develop. Learning to see efficiently and effectively requires full coordination between your child’s two eyes. Active playing and normal toddler games all help develop and strengthen your child’s vision. By the age of three, many of the vision skills required for life-long learning are reasonably developed.
By three years of age
Your child should have their second thorough eye examination. Your optometrist will reassess your child’s visual system to confirm the absence of any eye disease, as well as monitor the continued growth and efficiency of their visual skill development. This is also the examination where eye muscle problems such as crossed-eyes (strabismus) and lazy eye (amblyopia) are carefully assessed.
An eye condition described in everyday language
Amblyopia, or lazy eye, is the loss or lack of development of vision in an eye that is healthy. The lack or loss of vision is not due to an eye health problem. Amblyopia can be caused by strabismus (crossed-eyes), unequal refractive error, farsightedness or nearsightedness, or a physical obstruction like a cataract. The brain “learns” to see with the good eye only and the other eye grows weaker from disuse. It is estimated that 2 – 4% of all children have amblyopia. Amblyopia is responsible for more cases of vision loss in our children than all other ocular diseases and traumas combined.
The best news is that with early detection and treatment, many vision problems are REVERSIBLE and in some cases PREVENTABLE!
Between THREE YEARS and FIVE YEARS of age
Through these important years your child’s eyes will gain all the necessary vision skills needed to be ready for reading!
Your child should visit the optometrist before their first day of school. With the test results of the previous two eye examinations (six months and three years of age) your optometrist can assess how well your child’s vision is continuing to develop. This is an important appointment because it assures you that your child’s eyes are ready for their next big challenge – school.
You’ve completed Vision 101 for Parents. Congratulations!
There isn’t a time in a parent’s life when we aren’t the guardians of our children’s vision. It’s a big job, and an important one too. Enjoy marveling at those baby blues, greens, browns and hazels and watch them grow right before your very eyes!