Your infant’s vision develops pretty quickly: during the first couple months of life his world is a little fuzzy, but he can focus on nearby items and faces. “By 3 months, they’re seeing really well,” says Diana Gilbert, O.D., of the Cincinnati Eye Care Team, adding that by 6 months, babies are following a moving object with their eyes, or tracking, and using their eyes together.
The American Optometric Association recommends that babies have their first eye screening between 6 and 12 months. The most common eye vision problems detected in young children include near- or farsightedness, astigmatism, eye muscle imbalances and amblyopia (“lazy eye”). Catching these problems early is key to providing effective treatment, according to Gilbert, especially in cases of amblyopia, which can be much more difficult to treat in older children. And when you consider that much of a child’s learning is visual, an early eye exam, plus any necessary treatment, can lead to better learning.
Many area doctors, including the Cincinnati Eye Care Team, offer free exams through the public health program, InfantSEE. A typical screening tests for nearsightedness or farsightedness, astigmatism and signs of eye health problems. “We use lights and toys to evoke a normal response,” says Gilbert, adding that more sophisticated tools like scopes and lenses may also be used. If everything looks normal, Gilbert recommends that children return around 3 to 4 years of age, before beginning preschool. Then children should return every year after that — “because kids can change so fast,” she says.
It can be tough for parents to recognize that their child might be struggling to see clearly. “Children are so adaptable,” says Gilbert, “it’s hard to tell if they aren’t seeing well.” For example, a child that’s overly shy and tends to cling to Mom or Dad may actually be fearful of stepping away simply because she can’t see where she’s going. Gilbert advises parents to visit an ophthalmologist if their children aren’t reaching normal developmental milestones — vision may actually be the culprit.
Parents can also provide activities to help their child’s vision develop properly. Infantsee.org makes the following recommendations:
- 2 months: Stimulate both sides of the body by moving arms and legs together to encourage bilateral and binocular development.
- 4 months: Use a nightlight, change your child’s crib position as well as his position in the crib, keep toys within eight to 12 inches so he can focus, talk as you walk around the room, alternate sides when feeding and hang a mobile above the crib.
- 6 months: Play games like peek-a-book and patty-cake, and let your baby crawl and explore his space and the objects in it.
- 8 – 12 months: Give your tot objects he can hold and manipulate, as well as stack and take apart.