When babies are born, they already have the “hardware” necessary for vision, but the hardware still needs to be programmed. Babies are in the dark before birth, so the visual stimulation they experience, particularly between birth and age 2, is key to quality of vision for the rest of their lives.
Normal development for infants and toddlers
- Newborns see best at 8 to 10 inches (the distance to a parent’s face) but only in black & white
- By 6 months old, the eyes should be coordinating (looking in the same direction) and tracking objects. Color vision is improving.
- By 1 to 2 years old, depth perception and eye-hand coordination should be developing
- All babies are born with bluish gray eyes but eye color can change through age 2.
- Part of the reason babies are so appealing is that their eyes are bigger proportionately than those of adults. Newborn eyes are 2/3 the size of adult eyes even though their height is only 1/3 of average adult height.
What can go wrong?
- Cataracts, rare in children, are opacities that block light from entering one or both eyes. Pediatricians routinely screen for this at birth and at well-baby checks.
- Strabismus, an eye that wanders outward or crosses inward, after age 6 months
- Blur, especially when one eye is blurrier than the other
For normal visual development, both eyes need to be aimed properly and see equally clear images, otherwise the brain preferentially grows more connections to the clear eye than to the blurred or turned eye. This is the condition known as amblyopia (“lazy eye”) and results in lifelong reduced vision (less than 20/20) in the weaker eye unless treatment is begun as early as possible.
How to tell if something is wrong
The biggest clues are usually behavioral.
- Desirable traits: toddlers and older should be finding tiny things on the floor such as a piece of lint and picking it up. When you’re out and about they should point out objects such as an airplane in the sky or a cow in a pasture.
- Potential problems: habitually turning the head or covering one eye to see something. Rubbing the eyes or excessive blinking. Eyes that even occasionally appear to cross or wander.
- Parents, grandparents and caregivers are often the first to spot a possible vision problem. If there is any question, set up an exam with an eye care professional. We have clever ways of determining if there is a problem even in the very young.
Who is at higher risk of problems?
- Premature babies
- Special needs babies
- Babies whose family members have strong glasses prescriptions or a history of crossed or “lazy eye”
School age children
Since learning is 80% visual, all children should have a professional eye examination before starting kindergarten and periodically (every year or two) after that. Screenings by pediatricians and school nurses detect some vision problems but miss others. Children who struggle to read comfortably or see in the classroom are at a big disadvantage in learning compared to their peers.
Children assume that everyone sees the way they do and often do not know to tell parents that they are having trouble seeing. There have been many parents over the years who are shocked to find out that their child can see only the “big E” on the eyechart.
Some children are resistant to the idea of wearing glasses even though the glasses help them see better. Brookside Optometric Group has a large selection of durable frames for children backed up by a 1-year “no questions asked” replacement warrantee on lenses and frames (excluding loss of glasses). We recommend allowing your child to choose a frame that they like, even if it’s not your first choice. And later, contact lenses can be a great alternative for active teens or those concerned about their appearance with glasses.
Fun Facts for Children
- Children who are a little farsighted at age 5 are less likely to be nearsighted as adults
- Children who spend 45 minutes outdoors each day are also less likely to be nearsighted as adults
Brookside Optometric Group welcomes patients of all ages. If your child is of school age, or if you’ve noticed something about your preschooler’s eyes that concerns you, call for an appointment today. You’ll feel better knowing that they can see well and comfortably.