What many don't realize is just how important good vision is not only for physical development, but also for children to thrive and be successful in school. If a child cannot see the front board in school or has problems while reading up close, they can become frustrated and academic performance will suffer. In addition, certain eye conditions can profoundly impact vision to the point where glasses won't improve how they see when they're older. Why? Read on.
The visual system continues to develop from birth and throughout the early school years. In order for the vision centers in the brain to develop normally, the brain needs equal and clear input from both eyes. If one eye cannot send clear images to the brain, the connections between that eye and the brain will never form normally and vision will be decreased in that eye. This unfortunately cannot be corrected later in life, even with glasses, and this is called amblyopia, or "lazy eye". This critical period of vision development lasts from birth to around ages 7-8 (however, there can be improvement even in the teen years and studies are undergoing for treatment of amblyopia in adults!). If detected early enough during this critical period, amblyopia can be treated and prevented, and this is why eye exams and screenings are so important for your child.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends the following timeline for vision exams and screenings:
At birth: Premature newborns are screened for a condition called retinopathy of prematurity, and those with noticeable abnormalities and/or a family history of severe visual disorders such as retinoblastoma, congenital cataracts/glaucoma/ptosis, or certain metabolic and genetic diseases should be screened for those conditions
6 months to 1 year: Infants are screened for any abnormalities that can profoundly affect visual development
Age 3: By this age eye alignment should be assessed to check for any strabismus (eye turn) or refractive error (prescription) that is outside the normal expected range for your toddler's age
Before entering school (K-1st grade): Young children are screened for refractive error and strabismus as these can develop as your child continues to grow
Every 2 years thereafter: If your child does not need any correction, every 2 years is sufficient for eye examinations. If there are abnormalities that you notice or if they wear glasses, eyes should be examined at least every year or more as necessary and indicated by the eye care provider
If you suspect or notice any eye turns/unusual eye appearances/squinting, or your child is having visual problems, schedule an examination sooner. Routine vision examinations are vital to ensure problems are caught and treated early on.