children's vision

Your baby has a whole lifetime to see and learn. But, did you know your baby also has to learn to see? As a parent, there are many things that you can do to help your baby's develop. First, proper prenatal care and nutrition can help your baby's eyes develop before birth. At birth, your baby's eyes should be examined for signs of congenital eye problems. These are rare, but early diagnosis and treatment are important to your child's development.

At about age six months, you should take your baby to your doctor of optometry for his or her first thorough eye examination. Things that the optometrist will test for include excessive or unequal amounts of nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism and eye movement ability as well as eye health problems. Theses problems are not common, but it is important to identify children who have them at this stage. Vision development and eye health problems can be more easily corrected if treatment is begun early.

Unless you notice a need, or your doctor of optometry advises you otherwise, your child's next examination should be around age three, and then again before he or she enters school.

Between birth and age three, when many of your baby's vision skills will develop, there are ways that you can help.

About 80 percent of all babies are born far-sighted. Approximately five percent are born near-sighted, or unable to see objects at a distance clearly. Only about 15 percent are born with nothing wrong with the refractive parts of the eye.

Farsightedness usually decreases as a child ages, typically normalizing to a negligible value by the age of 7-8.

After a child grows and the incidence of farsightedness decreases, that of nearsightedness increases. Many school-age children and teens first discover they are nearsighted when they have difficulty reading the writing on the board at school. Nearsightedness usually occurs before age 25.

Good vision involves many different skills working together to enable your child not only to see clearly but also to understand what he or she sees.

Those skills include:
  • Near Vision: Ability to see clearly and comfortably at 13-16 inches, the distance at which school deskwork should be performed.
  • Distance Vision: Ability to see clearly and comfortably at 10 feet or more.
  • Binocular Coordination: Ability to use the two eyes together.
  • Eye Movement Skills: Ability to aim the eyes accurately, and move them smoothly across a page and quickly and accurately from one object to another.
  • Peripheral Awareness: Ability to be aware of things to the side while looking straight ahead.
  • Eye/Hand Coordination : Ability to use the eyes and hands together.
If any of these or other vision skills is lacking or not functioning properly, your child's eyes have to work harder. This can lead to blurred vision, headaches, fatigue and other eyestrain symptoms.

Why thorough vision examinations are important?

Don't assume your child has good vision because he or she passed a school vision screening. A 20/20 score means only that your child can see at 20 feet what he or she should be able to see at that distance. It does not measure any of the other vision skills needed for learning.

Vision screenings are important but they should not be substituted for a thorough vision examination.

Things you can do

There are things you can do to help ensure that your child's vision is ready for school each year and to relieve the visual stress of schoolwork.

Be alert for symptoms that may indicate your child has a vision problem.

Note if your child frequently:
  • Avoids close work.
  • Holds reading material closer than normal.
  • Tends to rub his or her eyes.
  • Has headaches.
  • Turns or tilts their head to use one eye only.
  • Makes reversals when reading or writing.
  • Uses a finger to maintain their place while reading.
  • Omits or confuses small words when reading.
  • Performs below potential.
  • Closes one eye while reading.
Make sure your child's homework area is evenly lighted and free from glare. Furniture should be the right size for proper posture. During periods of close concentration, have your child take periodic breaks. Rest breaks are also recommended when your child is using a computer or playing video games.

To make TV viewing easier on your child's eyes:
  • Be sure the room has overall soft lighting.
  • Place the set to avoid glare and reflections.
  • Watch from a distance at least five times the width of the screen.
Be sure your child's hours away from school include time for exercise and creative play. Both can help keep his or her vision skills functioning properly.

Teach your child eye protection through these safety rules:
  • Keep away from the targets of darts, bows-and-arrows, air guns and missile-throwing toys.
  • Don't shine laser pointers into anyone's eyes. Teach them laser pointers are not toys.
  • Don't run with or throw sharp objects.
  • Wear safety goggles when using chemistry sets, power tools and household and yard chemicals. (Note: Be certain your child is mature enough to handle these items safely, and provide proper supervision.)
Thorough vision care is important!

Because a change in vision can occur without you or your child realizing it, have your child's eyes examined every year.

From CAO and University of Waterloo's School of Optometry.