Early Childhood Visual Development

Congratulations!  You have just had a new baby!  Fingers and toes have been accounted for.  Pictures with baby and exhausted but exuberant parents have been taken.  Whose nose does she have?  And the eyes.  What about those eyes?

And what about your child's vision?  Vision is the dominant process in humans.  It is estimated that 80% of what is learned is done so visually.  Your child, assuming healthy eyes, is born with sight--the ability to see.  But VISION, the ability to understand what is seen and make appropriate actions based upon that information, is LEARNED.

Most children are born with beautiful, healthy eyes that are ready to take in the world and absorb all that information.  Some structures in the eyes are still quite immature even at full term (40 weeks gestation).  You may notice that the eyes seem somewhat unfocused and do not work together as a team.  That is normal in the first few weeks of life.  A newborn focuses their attention at approximately 9 inches.  This, coincidentally, is the distance from the mother's breast to her face.  So while baby is nursing, she can focus in on mom.

Over the next several months, many exciting changes take place.  The baby begins to be more aware of the world around them.  She watches mom as she moves across the room.  Toes are picked up and inspected both visually and orally.  At this time more information is gotten through the process of touch.  Over the next several years, this will eventually give way to vision.

When the child is almost ready to crawl or later walk what is the motivating factor?   VISION!  The child is visually interested in a toy which is out of reach.  She then guides her body, perhaps by crawling, to the object.  Then grasps it.  These are the beginnings of the child learning how to use vision to understand the world and direct their movements.

A Behavioral Optometrist understands how vision and the overall development of an infant and children are interrelated and interdependent.  Dr. Arnold Gesell, a pediatrician who founded the Gesell Institute for Human Development, once stated, "To know a child is to know his vision."  A behavioral optometrist, realizing that vision is a learned process, can determine if a child is developing their visual abilities as expected.  If not, activities to enhance the development are prescribed.

The American Optometric Association and the College of Optometrists in Vision Development recommend that a child be evaluated by the age of six months and again at the age of three.  Recent research has promoted the development of new techniques to evaluate the vision of infants.  It is quite simple to determine how well the baby sees, focuses, tracks objects and team their eyes together.  An evaluation of eye health is also done.  Eye drops which paralyze the focusing system are not usually necessary.  Children with other developmental problems (Down's Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy for example) are at risk to have developmental visual disorders.

Two common problems in children are strabismus (eye crosses in or out) and amblyopia (lazy eye--poor vision in one eye).  In both situations, eye teaming and depth perception skills are affected.  In both situations, rarely does the child complain of double vision or poor sight.  A child does not know it should see any differently.  Both visual conditions can be treated non-surgically by a behavioral optometrist.