Eye health and exams for infants and children
Infants (six months or younger)
At birth, your baby can see light and dark in blurred patterns. During their first four months, vision will extend from arm’s length to across the room. By six months, your baby will acquire eye movement control and begin to develop hand-eye coordination skills.
During the first six months, an infant's eyes can appear slightly crossed or out of alignment. If they continue to appear crossed or misaligned after six months, contact your optometrist right away. Your child may have strabismus, commonly known as crossed eyes. This condition can be treated with:
• Contact lenses
• Vision therapy
• In some cases, surgery
If the misaligned eye is left untreated, it will be unable to function normally. This may result in the development of amblyopia, commonly referred to as ‘lazy eye’. This condition refers to weak vision or vision loss in one eye due to uncorrected prescription or a misaligned eye. If detected and treated at an early age, it will often resolve completely. Untreated amblyopia can lead to significant vision loss in the affected eye.
Visual abilities play a key role in early development. Optometrists recommend infants have their first eye exam at six months and then continue on an annual basis. An optometrist can complete an eye exam even if your child doesn’t know their ABC’s or is not yet speaking in full sentences. They can use shapes, pictures and other child-friendly ways to evaluate vision and eye health.
Between ages one and two, it's important for a child to develop good hand-eye coordination and depth perception. There are activities that can help improve these essential visual skills, such as playing with building blocks, puzzles, or balls of any shape and size.
Children at age two enjoy listening to and looking at storybooks. It helps them develop visualization skills and prepares them for learning to read. At this stage of their development, toddlers also like to paint, draw and colour, sort shapes and sizes, and fit or assemble pieces. These activities are all integral to their visual development.
A preschooler's eyes are not ready for prolonged or intense concentration at short distances, but they do enjoy TV. To make TV viewing easier on the eyes, the room should be softly lit, the television placed to avoid glare, and the child should sit further away than five times the screen's width, taking periodic breaks from staring at the screen.
Be alert for symptoms that may indicate your child has a visual problem:
• Red, itchy or watering eyes
• Sensitivity to light
• An eye that consistently turns in or out
• Squinting, rubbing the eyes, or excessive blinking
• A lack of concentration
• Covering or closing one eye
• Irritability or short attention span
• Holding objects too close
• Avoiding books and television
• Visible frustration or grimacing
Protect your child’s vision. If you notice any of these symptoms, book an eye exam with an optometrist. Your child should have a complete optometric eye exam at six months, at age three, and then annually thereafter to ensure optimal eye health and developmental progress.
School-age children constantly use their eyes in the classroom and at play. For school-age children, several different visual skills must work together so they can see and understand clearly. If any of these visual skills are lacking or impaired, your child will need to work harder and may develop headaches or fatigue, or having difficulty maintaining attention on tasks. The increased visual demands of schoolwork can make greater demands on a child’s visual skills, pointing out a vision problem that was not apparent before school. The child may not realize they have a vision problem - they may simply assume everyone sees the way they do.
A vision-related problem may cause some of these symptoms:
• Headaches or irritability
• Avoidance of near or distance work
• Covering or rubbing of the eyes
• Tilting of the head or unusual posture
• Using a finger to maintain place while reading
• Losing place while reading
• Omitting or confusing words when reading
• Performing below their potential
Conditions that may emerge during this stage in your child’s life include:
• Myopia or nearsightedness (blurred vision when seeing objects at a distance)
• Hyperopia or farsightedness (blurred vision when seeing objects up close)
• Astigmatism (distorted vision at all distances)
As well, disorders of binocular vision, or how the two eyes work together, are very common. These include convergence insufficiency, oculomotor dysfunction and accommodative insufficiency. Protect your child’s vision. If you notice any of these symptoms, book an eye exam with an optometrist.
Even if you have no concerns, your child should have a complete optometric eye exam at six months, again at age three, and annually throughout the school years to ensure optimal eye health and developmental progress.
Find an optometrist near you.