If you are a parent like me and have ever wondered “when should I first take my child to see the optometrist”, you are probably not alone. Many parents decide to take their children to the eye doctor for their first eye exam when they fail a vision school screening or the vision screening at the pediatrician’s office. However, there are great benefits to bringing your child in for a comprehensive optometric examination long before the presentation of a suspected or apparent vision issue.
Visual conditions that include strabismus (eye turns), amblyopia (lazy eye) and high or unequal refractive error (myopia, hyperopia, astigmatism) affect approximately 1 in 4 children according to the Center for Disease Control. The American Optometric Association recommends that a child’s first eye examination take place between six months to one year of age, then at age three and followed by the start of first grade, unless determined to be a higher risk.
Many of these visual conditions will not be obvious to the parent or even other health care providers. This may include a child that is too young to read an eyechart, with one normal focusing eye and one weak focusing eye. In this case, the child appears to see very well with both eyes open, but when the normal focusing eye is covered, the weak focusing eye is very blurred and “lazy”.
An important fact to remember is the critical period of visual development where the connections between the eye and brain are being formed is between birth and 12 months. This includes the formation of 20/20 visual acuity and depth perception. The sensitive period of visual development, which helps solidify these connections, occurs between 1 to 7 years old. This is why early intervention is important.
Your Optometrist will be able to determine whether or not your child has or is at risk of developing a vision issue. These vision issues, if left untreated, may directly affect their cognition, attention, emotional state and physical performance. This is why early eye examinations with your Optometrist are so important. Glasses and/or an eye patch may be prescribed to help improve vision and prevent future problems.
We as parents want peace of mind that our children are seeing their best in order for them to achieve their best potential early in life.