Children's Eye Health
When it comes to your kids, you’ve probably concentrated on finding the best pediatrician and following their medical advice exactly, but what about pediatric eye care? Eye care for kids is sometimes an area parents overlook because they aren’t always aware of the importance of eye health for children. Many don’t seek eye exams for their children until either the child reports having difficulty seeing at school, or the child’s grades begin to slip and parents take a closer look at why their child isn’t developing academically.
What can you do to keep your child’s eyes healthy and seeing clearly from birth through the teen years? Your Mississippi family optometrists are here to help guide you.
Eye Exams for Children
Do you think children only need an eye exam if they are having problems seeing? Your child should see your family eye doctor earlier than you think. Infants should receive their first comprehensive eye exam around six months of age. Children need to have an eye exam around age three, and again when they reach age five or six. Before reaching first grade, parents are strongly encouraged to have their children receive a full eye exam to make sure they have no visual problems as they start elementary school.
Eye exams for young children are important because vision problems can negatively affect your child’s performance in school long before you are aware of the issue. The American Optometric Association reports that 5 to 10 percent of preschoolers and 25 percent of school-age children are diagnosed with vision problems once they receive proper eye care. Children risk not being able to fully participate in school, sports, and social activities if they are experiencing undiagnosed visual impairments. An early eye exam and regular eye care for children can alleviate this potential problem.
Kids' Vision Problems
As children grow and change from year to year, their eyes and vision can change, too. School demands intense visual involvement, including reading, writing, computer and chalkboard/smartboard work. Even physical education and sports require strong vision. If their eyes aren’t up to the task, children may feel tired, have trouble concentrating, and have problems in school.
Sometimes parents can tell if their child has a vision problem. For instance, their child may squint, hold reading material very close to his or her face, or complain about things appearing blurry. However, there are some less obvious signs of vision problems.
Here are signs that could point to potential vision problems in kids:
- Avoiding or not liking reading
- Short attention span
- Difficulty throwing or catching a ball, copying from a chalkboard, or tying their shoes
- Pulling a book in close to their face, or sitting too close to a TV
- Lots of blinking or eye rubbing
- Guiding their eyes with a finger or pencil while reading
- Falling performance in school
Unfortunately, in most cases kids have a hard time explaining a vision problem because they don’t have an understanding of good vision and cannot articulate their problem. Please don’t leave your children’s eyes to chance. Make sure they get a comprehensive eye exam every year.
Baby Eye Development
One of the greatest moments when having a child is the first time your newborn son or daughter opens his or her eyes and makes eye contact with you. But don’t be concerned if that doesn’t happen right away.
The visual system of a newborn infant takes some time to develop. In the first week of life, babies don’t see much detail. Their first view of the world is indistinct and only in shades of gray.
It takes several months for your children’s vision to develop fully. Knowing the milestones of your baby’s vision development (and what you can do to help it along) can ensure your child is seeing properly and enjoying his or her world to the fullest.
At birth, babies see only in black and white and shades of gray. Nerve cells in their retina and brain that control vision are not fully developed. Also, a newborn infant’s eyes don’t have the ability to focus on close objects. So don’t be concerned if your baby doesn’t seem to be “focusing” on objects, including your face. It just takes time.
Within a couple of weeks, as their retinas develop, babies’ pupils widen, and they can see light and dark ranges and patterns. Large shapes and bright colors may begin to attract their attention. Babies also may begin to focus on an object right in front of them.
At about one month, babies may focus briefly on their parents but may still prefer brightly colored objects up to three feet away. Infants are able to see across a room even at birth, but they are mostly interested in objects very close to them.
For their first two months, babies’ eyes sometimes don’t work together very well. Your baby’s eyes may appear to be crossed, or they may seem to wander out to the sides. In most cases, this condition is normal and their eyes will eventually correct themselves. However, if one of your baby’s eyes constantly turns in toward the nose or outward away from the nose, talk with your pediatrician.
At about two months old, babies usually are able to follow a moving object with their eyes as their visual coordination improves. In fact, at around three months old, your baby may have enough eye and arm coordination to bat at a nearby moving object.
At three months old, your baby’s eyes should work together to focus and track objects. If you do not notice this happening, talk with your optometrist.
At around five months old, babies have fully developed the ability to see how far an object is from them. They now see the world in 3-D, and so they get better at reaching for objects both near and far. They see in color now, too!
At this stage, babies recognize their parents and start smiling at them. They can see objects outside when looking through a window. They might even remember what an object is, even if they only see part of it.
Babies at this stage are starting to crawl, and their hand-eye coordination is really developing.
At about nine months old, babies begin to judge distances. And they start to pull up to stand. At around ten months old, babies can usually see and judge distance well enough to grasp something between their thumb and forefinger.
Usually by nine months, babies’ eyes are probably their final color, though it is not uncommon for parents to see some slight changes later.
By 12 months old, most babies are crawling and trying to walk.
Children's Eye Development
Did you know that 80 percent of what a child learns in school is information presented visually? As parents, we want to do all we can to get our kids off to a great start in school. But there’s one back-to-school essential that many of us miss—the annual eye exam. Making an eye exam part of your family’s back-to-school routine can help detect learning-related vision problems early on. Along with a yearly visit to your pediatrician, an annual comprehensive eye exam is key to making sure children are healthy from head to toe, and ready to give school their best shot.
For all of us, but especially for children, vision is about more than just seeing clearly. Kids need to be able to understand and respond to what they’re seeing. You may not realize how connected vision is to reading and learning. Children who aren’t doing well in school could actually be suffering from learning-related vision problems.
In fact, the American Optometric Association estimates one in four school-aged kids has undetected vision problems that critically impact their visual perceptual skills –better known – as the 3 R’s:
RECOGNITION: knowing the difference between letters like ‘b’ and ‘d’
COMPREHENSION: ‘picturing’ what’s happening in a story they’re reading
RETENTION: remembering and recalling details about what they’ve just read
Every kid needs solid vision skills. Your eye doctor will determine if any of these basic ones are lacking. If undetected, a child could struggle with simple tasks leading to eyestrain, headaches, and tiredness. Healthy vision means better school days!
Think about how much your child changes from infancy to the toddler and preschool age. Your child is walking, talking, exploring, growing, and learning. You want your child to grow-up healthy and happy, so regular pediatric exams are a big part of this stage of life. Your child is developing the skills that get them ready for reading, writing, sports, and creative endeavors, so annual eye exams are super important to a preschool-aged child. Preschoolers are eager to draw and look at pictures. Also, reading to young children is important to help them develop strong visualization skills as they “picture” the story in their minds.
This period is also when you may notice vision problems like crossed eyes or lazy eye. These conditions often develop at this age. Crossed eyes or strabismus involves one or both eyes turning inward or outward. Amblyopia, commonly known as lazy eye, is a lack of clear vision in one eye, which can’t be fully corrected with eyeglasses. Lazy eye often develops as a result of crossed eyes but may occur without noticeable signs.
Developmental delays related to vision problems are also more noticeable now. Be on the lookout for problems recognizing colors, shapes, letters, and numbers.
You know how important it is to read to your preschooler and play learning games to get your children to start school, but an annual eye exam also makes sure they have the tools they need to be successful learners all of their lives!
School-age children should have an eye exam every year even if they don’t wear eyeglasses or contact lenses. Many schools provide screenings for children. Unfortunately, the fact is that school screenings aren’t adequate and often miss vision issues.
Identifying eye problems early is crucial to your child’s learning and development in school. Children with poor vision may have difficulty with seeing text and comprehending words causing difficulty in reading. Parents don’t want their children to be frustrated with reading, especially when most vision problems are easily fixed with glasses. Unable to explain problems in a group, children may choose not to volunteer for reading in class out of embarrassment, or opt out of picking a library book because it’s hard to see. This reluctance to reading will negatively affect academic achievement and the enjoyment that comes with reading for many children.
Other symptoms of learning-related vision problems include headaches or eyestrain, short attention span for visual tasks, difficulty identifying or reproducing shapes, poor hand-eye coordination, and developmental delays.
Taking your children to an eye doctor and having an early eye exam are very important because children need the following basic visual skills for learning:
- Near vision
- Distance vision
- Eye teaming (binocularity) skills
- Eye movement skills
- Focusing skills
- Peripheral awareness
- Eye/hand coordination
A yearly eye exam for your children is a must. Their eyes can change so quickly, and before you know it, their performance in school can suffer. The good news is that most conditions can be easily corrected — once they’re detected.
Don’t rely on school vision screenings to keep your child’s vision healthy. Make annual trips to the eye doctor just as important as yearly medical checkups.
It’s a simple formula: good vision + good study habits = academic success! Be sure to schedule a comprehensive eye exam for your child every year. Don’t have a family eye doctor? Find one here.
Every third-grader in Mississippi must pass the third-grade reading assessment exam to be promoted to fourth grade. When students fail the third-grade reading assessment, it could mean they are struggling to read on grade level. It also could mean they are having vision problems.
In 2019, one in four of Mississippi’s third-graders (25%) did not pass the third-grade reading assessment on the first try. Of the third graders who saw optometrists after failing the test in 2015, 88 percent needed some sort of vision correction.
The Mississippi Optometric Association and the Mississippi Vision Foundation provide no-cost eye exams for students with no insurance who failed the third-grade reading assessment this year through July 31. More than 150 optometrists statewide are a part of the program.
Parents of children who fail the third grade literacy assessment can find an optometrist participating in the program at msvisionfoundation.org or call 601-572-0845.
Good students have better eyesight – period. When your kids are seeing, they’re learning. According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), as much as 80 percent of learning is visual. Reading, writing, and computer work are just a few visual tasks kids do every day in school. Whether they’re solving math problems or working on the board, kids need good vision to do their best in school.
Before the exam, explain that eye exams aren’t scary, and can be fun! During the exam, your eye doctor will ask about your child’s health, activities, eye problems, and any other health problems. If your child is old enough, the doctor will probably talk with him or her, too, which can help your child feel more comfortable.
Your child’s eye exam will include:
- Vision (visual acuity) test – We test how well your child sees at different distances. If your child can read, we use the standard eye chart. If not, we use shapes or a single letter in different positions (called the “tumbling E” test). We also check your child’s depth perception.
- Pupil test – We check how your child’s eyes respond to light. The doctor shines a bright light in each eye for a moment to see if the pupil reacts normally.
- Eye movement test – The doctor or eye technician moves a toy or finger in different directions to check how your child’s eyes follow it. We also check your child’s side (peripheral) vision.
Kids learn about the world through their five senses. Their eyesight is key to learning and to developing strong problem-solving skills that will last a lifetime. Since learning-related vision problems can occur at any age without you or your child noticing, make sure to pay attention to signs and symptoms, and, of course, make annual eye exams a good back-to-school habit.
When people have trouble using both eyes together or can’t focus for great lengths of time, they do not simply grow out of these problems. Adults have as much need for this type of vision care as children.
Vision therapy is like physical therapy for your child’s visual system, including the eyes and the parts of the brain that control vision. It includes a sequence of eye exercises that are used to improve the quality and efficiency of vision. It is also called vision training. Vision therapy helps your child’s eyes work more efficiently so that he or she can perform daily tasks, like reading and writing, more efficiently.
Unlike eyeglasses and contact lenses, which simply compensate for vision problems, or eye surgery that alters the anatomy of the eye or surrounding muscles, vision therapy aims to “teach” the visual system to correct itself.
Visual skills are learned during early childhood development but can be improved at any age with practice and training. An increasing amount of evidence-based research has shown vision therapy to be successful in:
- Helping patients develop or improve fundamental visual skills and abilities
- Improving visual comfort, ease, and efficiency
- Changing how a patient processes or interprets visual information
- Treating conditions, such as crossed eyes, lazy eye, and poor hand-eye coordination
In the case of learning disabilities, vision therapy is specifically directed toward resolving visual problems that interfere with reading, learning, and educational instruction. It is important to understand that vision therapy is not a direct treatment for learning disabilities.
Some visual conditions can’t be treated with glasses alone. Vision therapy uses principles of neuroscience and neuroplasticity to effectively treat conditions such as crossed eyes, lazy eye, and poor hand-eye coordination in children and adults. Your optometrist’s comprehensive approach will incorporate coordinated movement, balance, auditory processing, and cognitive abilities to establish and strengthen the neural connections between the brain and the eyes.
Your optometrist will work on a one-to-one basis with you and/or your child. The frequency and length of treatment vary with diagnosis and depend on the individual needs and goals of the patient. Vision therapy sessions include procedures designed to enhance the brain’s ability to control:
- Eye alignment
- Eye teaming
- Eye focusing abilities
- Eye movements
- Visual processing
In each therapy session, the patient is guided through a series of visual challenges that often incorporate the use of:
- Therapeutic lenses
- Electronic targets with timing mechanisms
- Balance boards
- Virtual reality
According to the AOA, 1 in 4 children has a vision problem severe enough to affect their learning in school, but school vision screenings can miss up to half of these problems. Any vision therapy program starts with an in-person comprehensive eye examination. Following a complete evaluation, your family eye doctor can advise you on possible treatments including vision therapy.
Find an eye doctor for your family and schedule a comprehensive eye exam here.