The first three years of a child's life is the critical period of development for the visual system. Despite this, a baby's vision is not always tested as part of a post birth screening.
Research has revealed that less than a fifth of all children aged five to 14 years were tested in the period from July 2006 to June 2007.
As a parent, your child's health is top priority and it can be an overwhelming job to make sure all bases are covered. Protecting your child's vision starts from infancy, with the simple step of scheduling regular eye examinations.
Optometrist Helen Venturato has over 20 years experience in the field and is conscious of the role that eyesight plays in a child's overall development, learning and behaviour. Helen points out that poor eyesight does not just affect a child's ability to see but may impact on their general awareness, attention span and ability to concentrate.
"Despite the range of complications poor eyesight can cause, it is rarely considered the source of a problem until all other avenues are exhausted. I experienced this situation first-hand when I helped a young girl - with an assumed learning disability - to read, through vision improvement. This came after years of the child undergoing special education classes, IQ tests, hearing tests and therapy. This could have been avoided with a simple childhood eye exam.
It was one of my most memorable career moments. Without the correction, the young girl simply couldn't make sense of anything on a page. Her vision problems meant that her hand writing, attention span and ability to learn were suffering. Correcting her vision was life changing for the young girl and her family and allowed her confidence to return."
In other cases poor vision can affect speed and enjoyment of reading, but it does not stop at academic pursuits. Sporting ability and enjoyment is another area dependent on vision. If depth perception is poor in a child they may struggle with learning to catch a ball, and believe they are bad at sport. This could result in a lack of confidence and missed sporting opportunities.
Detecting and treating vision deficiencies at a young age may impact on a child's interest in physical activity and sporting performance, and academic pursuits, therefore it is vital that eye examinations are conducted.
Book an eye exam for your child
A child's first eye exam should occur by age three. These early years are an important period where even common childhood disease, such as chickenpox, can disrupt development and may cause sight problems.
An eye exam and the tests conducted will vary depending on the age of your child.
For zero to two years
While vision testing for this age bracket may seem brief, this basic examination is rich in information and can ensure the fundamentals for a lifetime of good vision are in place. As a guide, a typical eye examination may include:
- Testing light reaction to ensure the nervous system and brain processes information correctly
- Testing long-sightedness to confirm whether your child's levels are within normal limits and that typical progression and development should occur
- Basic testing to ensure your child's eyes are aligned properly, this is important to rule out a lazy or turned eye
- Basic testing to ascertain the general health of the eyes by using an ophthalmoscope (a bright light) to look inside the eyes.
For two to four years
The testing techniques used in this age group will vary quite dramatically according to the development of the child. It is critical that a child's eyes are tested before they begin schooling. As a guide, a typical eye examination may include:
- Testing colour vision; it is important to identify potential issues as a child learns to name colours in this age group. Colour vision deficiencies are usually inherited and while little can be done to improve problems, early advice from an optometrists will alert parents to limitations a child may face.
- Testing for depth perception is also important for this age group as children are learning to walk and relate to the world around them. Poor depth perception may be related to a turned or lazy eye. Lazy or turned eyes can be improved, with patching and eye exercises. It is critical to detect and treat this as early as possible, because the best results are obtained with training programs for children under 7 years.
- Testing the impact of allergies on vision and comfort of the eyes.
- Testing motor co-ordination skills, near and long vision and general health of the eyes.
Frequently asked questions
Q: Should children wear sunglasses?
A: All Australian children should be protected from ultraviolet light (UV). A broad brimmed hat is critical, but sunglasses for children are important too. Sunglasses don't need to be expensive - just make sure that they meet safety standards.
Q: My child rubs their eyes a lot. What should I do?
A: Eye rubbing, particularly towards the end of the day, may be a sign of visual problems and should be investigated properly with an eye care professional. Eye rubbing can also indicate allergies.
Q: My child writes letters backwards. What should I do?
A: Letter reversal is quite common in the early stages of learning to read and write. Monitor your child closely and if this problem persists visit an eye care professional.
Q: My child likes to sit very close to the television. Should I be concerned?
A: Possibly not. Most children like to sit close to the TV, and there is often no visual reason associated. If you are worried, get your child to sit further back and ask if they can still see the smaller objects on the screen. Often a child with a visual problem will squint when they sit back from the TV. Aim to keep your child at least one meter from the TV, preferably more than three metres.
To find a local optometrist visit www.acuvue.com.au and click on 'Find an Optometrist'. This article has been provided by Johnson & Johnson Vision Care.