Does your child blink excessively or tilt their head when focusing on an object?
Do they battle to stack building blocks or colour in properly? Do they sit really close to the TV?
Did you know that 2 out of every 1,000 children in the UK have some form of visual impairment?
Have you ever asked yourself: "How do I know if my toddler needs glasses?" or "How do you know if your child has bad eyesight?".
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, then this article is for you!
We'll explain the signs of early visual problems, address potential eye issues and explain the importance of a regular eye examination - no matter how young your child is.
Addressing potential eyesight issues during a child's formative years can have a lasting impact on their quality of life, education and overall well-being. Let's take a closer look at this.
Depending on the severity of their vision problems, a child can have their first comprehensive eye examination at 6 months old. Their next follow-up vision screening should be at the age of 3 and then again at the age of 5 or 6, before starting primary school.
Should your child's paediatrician pick up any vision problems or if they need glasses, your child may be required to have a vision screening once or twice a year. This is to monitor any eye issues and/or upgrade their prescription glasses.
Here are a few common signs to be aware of when trying to figure out if your child has bad sight or if your child needs glasses.
If your child experiences any of the following, it may be worthwhile scheduling an appointment with your local optician.
This list of examples could be a sign of potential vision problems of your child:
Squinting or showing physical signs of eye strain
Rubbing eyes excessively
Tilting head or covering one eye
Difficulty focusing and/or reading
Having a short attention span (compared to other children of the same age)
Sensitive to light
Difficulty with eye-hand-body coordination (such as picking up or throwing a ball)
They avoid certain activities that require detailed focus, such as building puzzles or painting.
Have you noticed a change in your child's behaviour lately?
Sometimes, parents, teachers or caregivers may first suggest that behavioural changes in children could be a sign of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
This is not always the case!
A comprehensive eye exam or visual screening should be your first point of call before beginning any type of behavioural medication for your child. This could also be your best bet for uncovering any potential underlying vision problems.
Some telltale signs could present themselves in these ways:
Increased irritability or frustration
Avoidance of certain activities that require detailed focus
Decreased attention span
Poor academic performance or milestone achievement
Behaviour regression (meaning your child's behaviour becomes worse over time)
Clumsiness and lack of coordination
Fatigue and frequent headaches
Unwillingness to explore their surroundings.
Understanding your child's age-appropriate milestones is another key aspect to observe. If or when children are not reaching these milestones within an appropriate time frame - bearing in mind that children develop at different rates - it could indicate that your child has a vision problem.
In the next section, we touch on these milestones and what normal vision is for a toddler.
The early years of toddlerhood are a captivating time, marked by a child's growth and the need to explore the world around them. Within this time, a child's vision development takes centre stage, shaping their experiences and interactions. Let's take a closer look at those milestones next.
Toddlers aged 1-3 go through an incredible journey of visual discovery, and meeting age-appropriate milestones is a parent/caregiver's way to monitor their progress. Kids aged between 2 and 5 start to fine-tune their visual abilities gained during infancy and begin to develop new ones.
Here are a few examples of how to monitor your child's vision at normal milestones:
Packing objects: At 1 year old, children should be able to start packing objects, such as blocks or balls, into containers. This milestone shows a child's visual depth perception.
Identify images: Kids should be able to identify the correct image when parents point at it, such as "sheep" when looking at picture books.
Tracking moving objects: Toddlers should be able to track moving objects which indicates their developing eye coordination.
Recognise familiar faces: Their ability to recognise familiar faces at a distance shows their visual recognition skills.
Kicking a ball: From the age of 2, children should be able to kick a ball and join in on ball games. These movement milestones also indicate a child's visual development.
Curiosity for visual stimuli: Showing an interest in colourful stimuli, such as pinwheels, represents their responsiveness to the visual world.
Cutting: From around 4 years old (sometimes earlier), children learn how to cut with scissors. This fine motor skill development also shows if a child's vision is developing properly.
To further explain:
Up until the age of 4, children typically have 20/40 vision.
As they reach age 5, their vision usually improves to 20/30.
After that, their visual acuity should ideally reach 20/25.
By age 6, kids should have 20/20 vision (and it's not uncommon for nursery schools to request a visual screening around this time too).
To add to the above section related to toddler milestones, parents and caregivers should also:
Checking the alignment of your child's eyes is an important aspect of evaluating their visual health. When both eyes appear aligned and symmetrical, it shows that the eyes are working together in balance. This visual alignment is essential for accurate depth perception, binocular vision (when eyes have an overlapping range of vision to create 3D imagery) and overall visual acuity.
However, if misalignments occur, a condition called strabismus may be present. Strabismus can be identified by eyes focusing in different directions (i.e. crossed eyes). One eye may turn inwards, outwards, upwards or downwards while the other eye maintains its focus. Early diagnosis of this condition is essential, as it may lead to amblyopia, commonly known as "lazy eye".
If you, as a parent or caregiver, notice any misalignment with your child's eyes, it's best to book an appointment with your local optician or see your child's paediatrician for the appropriate treatment. Luckily, these eye conditions can be corrected with glasses or eye exercises, and surgery is only needed in more severe cases.
Smooth and coordinated eye movements are important for toddlers - and children of all ages - as they explore and interact with the environment around them. Healthy eye movement allows them to track moving objects, shift their gaze from one area to another and maintain clear vision and stability while moving.
Abnormalities in eye movement can be an indicator of an underlying vision problem. Unusual eye movements, such as jerking/twitching or having difficulty focusing, may suggest an eye issue. If you do happen to notice these problems, seek professional advice from a pediatric optometrist, who can perform a comprehensive eye exam for your child.
Encouraging quick intervention can prevent potential issues from worsening and ensure your child's visual abilities continue to develop properly.
Next, it's of utmost importance that as your child grows you encourage visual engagement. This means actively encouraging your child's cognitive and motor skills, which play a pivotal role in honing their visual skills.
You can do this by:
Building blocks or doing puzzles
Playing ball games
Packing and unpacking objects
Looking at picture books or photographs together
This process ensures eyes are:
Aid in visual perception
Spatially aware (understanding where your body is in relation to your surroundings)
If you have noticed any of the above signs mentioned in this article, we encourage you to put your child's vision problems at the forefront and schedule a vision screening as soon as possible.
Having your child's vision problem corrected can be a daunting task for parents and caregivers. However, eye tests for children are essential if you want to safeguard one of their most precious senses!
Here are two helpful tips to consider when navigating your child's first eye examination. Remember, taking this proactive step will ensure your child has clear vision for years to come!
Choose a optometrist that specialises in working with children. An experienced optician understands how to make the process gentle for our little ones.
Prepare your child for their upcoming eye exam appointment. Reassure them that the optician is there to help with their vision problem and that they may need glasses.
A visual screening is a brief and basic eye checkup and is often done at schools. It uses Snellen's charts (viewing letters or numbers on a chart at varying distances) and colour perception to assess basic eye functions. If visual issues are found during a visual screening, individuals are often referred to a qualified professional.
An eye examination is more in-depth. Opticians use specialised equipment, such as tonometers and retinal cameras, to assess the health of the eye's internal structures. These comprehensive eye exams can pick up blurry vision, distorted vision and/or if an individual may need glasses. Opticians have the ability to prescribe prescription glasses.
Eye exams are important because they help detect and address vision problems, ensure overall eye health and promote early intervention for any eye-related issues. Regular eye exams - and eye tests for children - can treat problems related to eye diseases, difficulty focusing, eye strain and/or distorted vision - to name a few.
Now that you have explored the vital signs of age-appropriate visual milestones, indicators if a toddler may need glasses and what "normal" vision is, you are able to make a more informed decision about your child's potential vision problem.
By recognising the early signs of possible eye or vision problems, choosing experienced opticians and fostering a positive outlook, parents and caregivers can ensure that their child's vision continues to develop properly.
It's important to schedule regular eye exams for your children, from as early as 6 months old. Doing so will reduce their risk of potential vision problems and ensure a brighter and clearer future for your little ones. Use Book An Eye Test's user-friendly directory platform to search for local opticians in your area and schedule your child's next appointment today!
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