Those eyes you’re using now have gone through one heck of a journey. From the moment you’re born, infancy is a crucial time for eye development. WebMD reports kids begin to see things clearly far away only at about 12 to 16 weeks of life. For the next year, a child’s eyesight continues to improve.
Discerning parents probably watch their kids for squinting when reading or playing video games, but is that enough to detect sight problems? No, because many eye conditions that affect children are more subtle. Instead, parents need to take a comprehensive approach to eye care and learn to recognize the clues at various stages of development.
From Birth to 24 Months
Sight isn’t innate — babies must learn to see. During the infant stage of development, parents can easily assume normal eyesight is not normal at all because the baby is still learning how to focus and translate what their eyes see into something tangible. At three months of age, an infant is still only able to identify objects about 10 inches from the face. That is why mom gets a giggle when she leans down close.
At about five to eight months, you will notice your child is developing depth perception and can recognize you enough to reach out even at a distance. This is also the age when color becomes a vital part of a baby’s life.
It is very unusual to have significant eye problems at this early stage unless they are congenital. Some signs to be aware of include:
- Excessive tearing
- Red eyes that might indicate infection
- Extreme light sensitivity
- White pupils, which point to possible retinal tumors
Around six to 12 months is a good time to consider getting the baby’s first real eye exam. Your pediatrician can recommend a doctor of optometry who deals with children.
Heading to School
Once your child starts school, clues indicating nearsightedness or farsightedness become easier to spot. Low grades, for example, might be an indicator a child can’t see or read well. Teachers may report kids squinting to understand what is on the board, or improvement in class participation when a child sits close to the front.
Parents can watch for kids who tilt their head when they read, or show signs of eye-coordination problems, such as letting a ball drop repeatedly. Crying when playing catch or coloring may mean the child is struggling with these tasks.
How to Know When a Child Needs a Vision Exam
Children should get an eye exam once every two years. Some schools will automatically test students’ eyes each year and offer parents feedback. This test only checks for distance acuity. A parent might consider taking children for a professional exam, anyway, if they are falling behind in school or slow at doing homework.
How about Glasses and Contacts?
It is normal for kids to feel uncomfortable if they wear glasses. It makes them different at a time when they really just want to fit in with the crowd. It is important for parents to reassure a child who must wear glasses they look good and are special. Let them know lots of kids have to wear glasses, and make caring for them responsibly fun.
Contact lenses are a practical and cost-saving way to solve the glasses issue for kids who qualify. Disposable lenses start at around $30, according to Coastal.com, as compared to replacing glasses every time an active kid breaks them.
Pediatric ophthalmologist David Granet explains kids mature enough to handle the responsibility of contacts at around 10 years old, though it’s up to the parents to judge when they are ready.
About the Author: Walter is a single dad who loves raising his two boys and writing about sports on the side.