A child’s vision develops in many forms. When they are born, they are only able to see in black and white. However, within the first couple weeks, their color vision begins to develop. During this time you’ll also see your infant begin to have a preference their mother’s face over a strangers.
The First Month
In the first month the eyes may be a bit uncoordinated and appear to not always be pointing at the same object. You can help your child by putting bright varied objects for them to look at, such as a brightly colored mobile over their crib.
The Second and Third Months
In the 2nd and 3rd months the eyes begin to move better as a team, and they begin to see object more clearly. The American Optometric Association has recommended a few things for your child at this age:
- Move the crib occasionally so they have different items to look at with a fresh perspective.
- Talk to your baby as you are walking around the room
- Keep a night light in the room so they will have visual stimulation when they waken while in the crib.
- Infants should be placed on their backs for sleep to minimize the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. However, while awake and under your supervision you should place them on their stomach to provide new motor and visual experiences.
By 6 months your baby has developed better eye-hand coordination and is able to direct objects such as a bottle towards their mouth. They will be searching for toys they may drop, and will visually inspect the toys they can hold. During this time babies begin to have good control over their eye movements and start to have a minimum of head movement when looking around. Parents should hang mobiles and other crib designed objects across the crib for the baby to manipulate by grabbing, pulling, and kicking. Allow them to play with plastic or wooden blocks they can hold in their hand.
As they approach 12 months a babies’ eyes will sweep a room to actively see what’s happening. Their eye/hand coordination has developed enough to allow them to search out objects they wish to inspect and to accurately reach and grasp those objects. It should be noted that crawling should be encouraged over early walking. This helps to develop a sense of the two sides of the body as well as improving eye-hand coordination.
Toddlers and Preschoolers
The visual system of toddlers and preschoolers continues to develop. Eye-hand coordination and visually directed manipulation improves. They begin to “read” at this stage. The preschooler may not know words but they “read” the pictures in books. Reading to your child helps to develop the visualization skills which are important for reading and learning as they progress through school. Children this age should be encouraged to play with rolling a ball and stacking blocks as these games help to develop timing, eye teaming, and depth perception.
School-age children should definitely have had an eye exam before entering school. A surprisingly small number of children have had a complete optometric eye exam as they start kindergarten. School work begins the child’s life toward tasking them to reading, writing, and other close work. There are over 15 visual skills that are necessary for optimal visual performance both in school and play. The pediatrician can check how clearly a child sees but that is only one of the necessary skills. School vision screenings play an important role but they too only check how clearly a child sees.
Choosing an Eye Doctor
The eye doctor you choose is important. Ideally you want a doctor who has experience dealing with children. The doctor needs to be familiar with the necessary skills needed for reading and learning. An ophthalmologist is a surgeon. He is highly skilled in disease management and the intricate structure of the human eye for the purposes of surgery. However the ophthalmologist has little if any training in the functional aspect of the visual system, such as how a child uses the 17 different visual skills when learning in the classroom. An optometrist is also trained in disease management but they do not do surgery. The optometrist gets a basic education in the necessary visual skills and is familiar with their use and purpose.
Most optometrists, however, do not have the extensive additional training in the area of children’s vision care. These optometrists with this training are called developmental optometrists and they specialize in learning-related vision problems. Developmental optometrists are trained in the detection and treatment of vision-related learning problems. They employ procedures and activities through Optometric Vision Therapy to enhance the visual skills a child needs. A developmental optometrist can be found through COVD.org.