Friday, December 21, 2012

Children's Vision


As your children grow, you can help them adapt to the many visual changes they face. At different stages of development, a child needs different visual skills.  The toys, games and visual input you provide can help your child build a strong foundation for reading, studying and working.

For many years, people believed that newborn babies could not see. However, experts have found that infants can see up close. Young babies are attracted by faces, brightly colored objects and patterns, so give them lots of visual variety.

It’s best not to push preschoolers to read, but you can help them get ready to read by exposing children to a wide range of ideas and words.  To a young child, words on a page are just a mass of interesting symbols—this is a normal part of a child’s development and will grow into understanding later.

In kindergarten, children learn about spatial relationships that will help them cope with reading.  They learn to look at things from left to right, to differentiate form, to distinguish between curved and straight lines. Simple tasks such as coloring circles one color and squares another are a step towards reading letters later on. 

Developmental problems in children occur when they are deprived, restrained or restricted during early months and years.  Deprivation comes from insufficient exposure to a variety of experiences which prevents the visual system from developing adequate skills.  Too much restriction or restraint causes inefficient seeing habits, such as using only one eye.

As your child grows, you can watch for visual development clues and signs that might signal a problem.  Here are signs to watch for at various stages of development:

In preschool (from 5 months to 5 years), the eyes should be straight and healthy looking—watch for tilting of the head, poor coordination and balance; eyes should follow people or objects.  Your child should be able to point to an object he or she sees.  By age 5, a child usually shows an interest in books, can draw and color and knows how to write own name.

The stress of school and classwork frequently shows up around the second grade, which is the earliest stage of concentration of intensity and staying with a task.
Watch for signs of myopia (nearsightedness), like squinting or working too close to a task; headaches; squinting or burning eyes; a short attention span or losing of place while reading; covering of one eye or tilting head while reading; complaints of seeing double.

By the third or fourth grade, a sudden drop in achievement may occur. At this point, children must start using what they read. They read to learn, not learn to read. Reading must be used to learn other, more complex, areas of school work.

A state-wide study of 160,000 children in the Texas schools showed that 20% had vision problems by the time they finished first grade, and 40% by age 9. However, few children show the existence of vision problems at birth.

The visual stress on your children cannot be underestimated. We suggest that parents schedule a vision examination by age 1 (no cost to you because we are providers), age 3 and before children enter kindergarten and yearly thereafter to help prevent and treat visual problems.

--James B. Mayer, OD, FCOVD
     Agape Learning & Optometry Center
     Thousand Oaks, CA   91360