Babies have poor vision at birth but can see faces at close range, even in the newborn nursery. At about six weeks a baby’s eyes should follow objects and by four months should work together. Over the first year or two, vision develops rapidly. A two-year-old usually sees around 20/30, nearly the same as an adult.
Parents should be aware of signals of poor vision. If one eye turns or crosses, that eye may not see as well as the other eye. If the child is uninterested in faces or age-appropriate toys, or if the eyes rove around or jiggle (nystagmus), poor vision should be suspected. Other signs to watch for are tilting the head and squinting. Babies and toddlers compensate for poor vision rather than complain about it.
Should a baby need glasses, the prescription can be determined fairly accurately by dilating the pupil and analyzing the light reflected through the pupil from the back of the eye.
A baby’s vision can also be tested in a research laboratory where brain waves are recorded as the child looks at stripes or checks on a TV screen. The test is called Visual Evoked Potential (VEP). Another test called preferential looking or Teller Acuity Cards uses simple striped cards to attract the child’s attention. In both tests, as the stripes grow smaller, the child eventually does not respond (with brain waves or by looking at the stripes).
Childhood Reading Problems
When children have difficulty reading, parents often think poor vision is the problem. If a visit to an ophthalmologist rules out any medical or vision problems, it may be a learning disability.
A learning disability is a disparity between a person’s ability and performance in a certain area. It has nothing to do with intelligence or IQ. A learning disability can make it difficult to succeed in school and, if untreated, gets worse, causing a child to lose self-confidence and interest in school.
Identifying the learning disability is the first step in treating it. Dyslexia, a reading disability that may involve reversing letters and words, is one of the many learning disorders that can affect reading.
Exercises have been used to improve the coordination or focusing of the eyes. Since poor reading is not usually an eye problem, these exercises rarely prove helpful. Colored lenses, special diets or vitamins, jumping on trampolines, or walking on balance beams have also been prescribed without much success. Over time, these methods have tended to fall out of favor.
Children with learning disabilities benefit from various educational programs, in or out of school. Parents also play a vital role. They can support their children by reading with them at home. Children with learning disabilities need to be encouraged to develop strengths and interests so they can fully develop their unique talents and abilities.
Children and Vision
People are often confused about the importance of glasses for children. Some believe that if children wear glasses when they are young, they won’t need them later. Others think wearing glasses as a child makes one dependent on them later. Neither is true. Children need glasses because they are genetically nearsighted, farsighted, or astigmatic. These conditions do not go away nor do they get worse because they are not corrected. Glasses or contacts are necessary throughout life for good vision.
Nearsightedness (distant objects appear blurry) typically begins between the ages of eight and fifteen but can start earlier. Farsightedness is actually normal in young children and not a problem as long as it is mild. If a child is too farsighted, vision is blurry or the eyes cross when looking closely at things. This is usually apparent around the age of two. Almost everyone has some amount of astigmatism (oval instead of round cornea). Glasses are required only if the astigmatism is strong.
Unlike adults, children who need glasses may develop a second problem, called amblyopia or lazy eye. Amblyopia means even with the right prescription, one eye (or sometimes both eyes) does not see normally. Amblyopia is more likely to occur if the prescription needed to correct one eye is stronger than the other. Wearing glasses can prevent amblyopia from developing in the more out-of-focus eye.
Children (and adults) who do not see well with one eye because of amblyopia, or because of any other medical problem that cannot be corrected, should wear safety glasses to protect the normal eye.