VISION DEVELOPMENT

Much like they learn to walk and talk, children learn to see over a period of time. Babies are not born with all the visual abilities they need in life – the ability to focus, move their eyes accurately, and use them together must be learned.

Vision Development GridIt takes several months for a child’s vision to fully develop. During that time, he or she will gain visual acuity (focus), learn to recognize faces and objects, develop depth and color perception, and become increasingly sensitive to light (as the pupils grow). But…

A child does not know what he or she is supposed to see.

That is why it is important to take an active role in a child’s vision development. Mobiles hanging over the crib, the stack of colored rings, the shaper sorter – and smiling faces – all play hugely important roles in your child’s eyesight.

It’s also important that, as early as 6 months – earlier if there are indications something may not be right – that children get regular eye exams with an optometrist.

PROGRESSION OF VISION DEVELOPMENT

Most of a child’s vision development will be accomplished within the first 6 months of his or her life, with fine-tuning occurring until about two years of age.

During pre-school years, children actively use their eyesight to engage with the world around them. This is when parents need to be particularly on the alert for vision problems. Crossed or lazy eyes, difficulty recognizing colors, shapes, or letters and numbers, are all indications that a child may have a vision problem.

  • Infants develop the ability to see colors early, starting with red, orange, yellow and green. Blue and violet take a little longer because of their shorter wavelengths, and because there are fewer color receptors in the retina for blue light.
  • Babies’ eyes sometimes don’t appear to be working early on, and one eye may occasionally drift inward or outward from proper alignment. This is normal, but if you see a large and constant misalignment, an evaluation may be warranted
  • Babies begin to more easily focus their eyes on the faces of a parent and objects  near them, eye-hand coordination begins to develop, they learn how to shift their gaze, and they begin to reach for things.
  • Eyes become more sensitive to light as the pupils enlarge.
  • Visual acuity improves from about 20/400 at birth to approximately 20/25 at 6 months of age.
  • Color vision now similar to that of an adult as well –  a infant can see all the colors of the rainbow.
  • Eye-hand coordination is well developed, allowing infants to quickly locate and pick up objects.

Six months of age is an important milestone – this is when a child should have his or her first children’s eye exam. An optometrist will perform testing to asses visual acuity, near- or farsightedness, eye teaming and alignment.

  • Control of eye movements and eye-hand coordination continue to improve.
  • Depth perception is now rapidly developing, allowing an infant to form a three-dimensional view of the world and see in depth.
  • Infants’ eyes may be changing color as darker pigments develop in the irises. (Most babies are born with blue eyes.)
  • Toddlers are now mobile, crawling about, becoming better at judging distances and more accurate at grasping and throwing objects, as they learn to coordinate their vision with their body movements. Secure those cabinets!
  • Infants can now judge distances fairly well and throw things with precision. They also begin to pull themselves to a standing position.
  • Most infants will be crawling, and trying to walk, but should be encourages to keep crawling, as that helps them develop better eye-hand coordination.
  • By two years of age, a child’s eye-hand coordination and depth perception should be well developed. They recognize familiar objects and pictures in books and can scribble with crayon or pencil.

Every experience a preschooler has is an opportunity for growth and development. They use their vision to guide other learning experiences. From ages 2 to 5, a child will grow and develop using their vision as a guide, fine-tuning visual abilities gained during infancy and developing new ones.

Stacking building blocks, rolling a ball, drawing, coloring, playing with shape sorter toys… all these activities help improve important visual skills.

This is also the time when parents need to be alert for the presence of vision problems like crossed eyes or lazy eye. These conditions often develop at this age. You also need to be on the lookout for difficulty with recognizing colors, shapes, letters and numbers, which may indicate the presence of a vision problem.

You should know that a vision screening, at preschool, for example, is not the same as a comprehensive eye and vision examination by an optometrist.

Vision screenings are a limited process and may miss as many as 60% of children with vision problems. Even if a vision screening does not identify a possible vision problem, your child may still have one.

Between the ages of 3 and 5, your child should have a thorough, in-person optometric eye examination, to make sure his or her vision is developing properly and that there is no evidence of eye disease.

If needed, your optometrist can prescribe treatment, including eyeglasses and/or vision therapy, to correct a vision development problem.

HELPING YOUR CHILD’S VISION DEVELOP

There are many things parents can do to help a child’s vision develop properly. The following, from the American Optometric Association, are some examples of age-appropriate activities that can assist an infant’s visual development.

  • Use a nightlight or other dim lamp in your baby’s room.
  • Change the crib’s position frequently and change your child’s position in it.
  • Keep reach-and-touch toys within your baby’s focus.
  • Talk to your baby as you walk around the room.
  • Alternate right and left sides with each feeding.
  • Hang a mobile, crib gym or various objects across the crib for the baby to grab, pull and kick.
  • Give the baby plenty of time to play and explore on the floor.
  • Provide plastic or wooden blocks that can be held in the hands.
  • Play patty cake and other games, moving the baby’s hands through the motions while saying the words aloud.
  • Play hide and seek games with toys or your face to help the baby develop visual memory.
  • Name objects when talking to encourage the baby’s word association and vocabulary development skills.
  • Encourage crawling and creeping.
  • Roll a ball back and forth to help the child track objects with the eyes visually.
  • Give the child building blocks and balls of all shapes and sizes to play with to boost fine motor skills and small muscle development.
  • Read or tell stories to stimulate the child’s ability to visualize and pave the way for learning and reading skills.

In the current era of multiple electronic inputs from devices of all sizes, it’s important to remember that the constant change of focus puts a lot of strain on developing eyes. Let nature do its job before exposing your child to multiple electronic inputs!

WARNING SIGNS OF VISION PROBLEMS

Most babies begin life with healthy eyes, and the presence of vision problems in infants is rare. Occasionally, though, eye health and vision problems can develop. You can look for the following signs that may be an indication of eye and vision problems:

  • Excessive tears may indicate blocked tear ducts
  • Constant eye turning may signal a problem with eye muscle control
  • Red or encrusted eyelids could be a sign of an eye infection
  • Elevated sensitivity to light could indicate elevated pressure in the eye
  • Appearance of a white pupil may indicate the presence of an eye cancer

If you notice any of these signs, you should immediately make an appointment with your optometrist.

During a child’s preschool years, there may be several other indications that a child is having trouble with his or her eyes or vision.

Parents should watch for signs that may indicate a vision problem, including:

  • Sitting close to the television or holding a book too close
  • Squinting
  • Tilting their head
  • Covering an eye
  • Frequently rubbing their eyes
  • Having a short attention span for the child’s age
  • Turning of an eye in or out
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Difficulty with eye-hand-body coordination when playing ball or bike riding
  • Avoiding coloring activities, puzzles and other detailed activities

Remember, children do not know what they are supposed to see – it is up to you to monitor them for any signs of vision difficulty, and up to your optometrist to expertly assess any problems then recommend treatments, if needed.

The information on this website is offered as part of a public information campaign supported by NHOA member donations, grants, and funding from vision-related corporations. It is extended thanks to broadcasters across the Granite State, in order that you, your family members, and every resident of New Hampshire gets as close to healthy 20/20 vision as possible in 2020, and beyond.