Your child’s eyes are constantly growing and changing. Because toddlers typically aren’t able to communicate problems they’re having with their vision, it’s important that you schedule routine eye exams. For many vision problems and eye diseases, early detection and treatment is crucial to preventing long-term damage. Not only is this vital for your child’s vision and optical health, but also it could affect your child’s ability to perform other developmental activities that rely on vision. Keep an eye out for signs of vision problems in toddlers, and contact your optometrist if you suspect anything is amiss.
Signs of Vision Problems in Toddlers
Babies are not born with perfect vision. Instead, they develop visual abilities over time. For example, babies must learn to focus their eyes, move their eyes accurately, and use them as a team; these aren’t inborn characteristics of human eyes. To understand the world and interact with it appropriately, babies also must learn how to use the visual information that their eyes send to their brain. Visual problems can cause developmental delays, disrupting an infant’s ability to learn and prosper, so it’s important to catch any issues early. Keep an eye out for the following symptoms:
- Frequent eye rubbing
- Difficulty focusing
- Poor visual tracking (the ability to follow an object with one’s eyes)
- Extreme light sensitivity
- Abnormal alignment or movement of the eyes (for example, eyes fluttering quickly side to side or up and down)
- Chronic eye redness or tearing of the eyes
- White or grayish pupils
- Sitting too close to the TV or holding a book too close
- Drooping eyelids
- Difficulty with hand-eye-body coordination
Babies reach visual milestones at different ages, so don’t worry too much if your child seems to be a bit behind. Discuss any concerns with your doctor. Generally, you should expect to see the following stages of progress (source):
Birth to Four Months
In the earliest phase of life, babies primarily focus on objects 8 to 10 inches away from their eyes. They may enjoy staring at high-contrast images. Over the weeks, they will begin to use their eyes together. Their eyes will more easily focus and track objects, which will help with eye-hand coordination. It’s not unusual for the eyes to appear uncoordinated or crossed occasionally; however, if this occurs frequently, you should mention it to your baby’s doctor.
Five to Eight Months
At this stage, babies’ eye movements and eye-body coordination skills improve. They will begin perceiving depth, giving them a 3D view of the world, and finally have good color vision at about five months of age. As babies begin crawling, their ability to use their eyes together will improve.
Nine to Twelve Months
At this stage, some babies will attempt walking, but it’s actually better for a child to continue crawling a while to improve their eye-hand coordination. Babies can judge distances quite well at this point and may toss things with precision.
One to Two Years Old
By two, a child should have well-developed depth perception and eye-hand coordination. These abilities will serve them well as they begin eagerly exploring their environment.
When to Visit the Optometrist
So when should you schedule your child’s first eye exam? According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), it’s typically best to have a young child’s eyes tested at 6 months of age and 3 years of age. Beginning in first grade, your child’s eyes should be tested every two years. However, if your child is considered “at risk” due to a medical condition, your doctor may recommend more frequent eye exams. For example, if your child was born with low oxygen levels or you have a family history of retinoblastoma, your doctor may advise earlier and more frequent eye exams.
Keep in mind that it’s rare for infants to experience eye and vision problems. Most babies are born with healthy eyes and will gradually develop the visual abilities they need. Still, it’s always good to be aware of what’s normal and what warrants further inspection.
Are you looking for a new optometrist? If you live near southwest Missouri, stop by Heffington’s. Since 1975, the Heffington family has been assisting the Springfield community with top-quality eye care and affordable eyeglasses and contacts. To learn more about our products and services, please get in touch with us online, send an e-mail to [email protected], or give us a call at 417-869-3937 (Optiland location) or 417-882-3937 (House of Vision location).