Although your child is born with all of the eye structures needed to see, the visual system of your child takes time to develop.
Our visual capacity has helped colour our lives in more ways than we can imagine and, for most, it is difficult to think of having to live without our sense of sight. It assists us in everyday activities, from simple ones such as reading or watching television, to more complex, subconscious activities such as searching for visual cues during social interactions. To us, our sense of sight has always been natural and spontaneous, although we often do not realise that many visual skills we possess are those that were developed and learnt early in life.
Newborns (0 – 4 Months)
When babies are born, they see in black and white and, to some extent, shades of grey. Most of this vision, however, is blurred as they can only focus at a distance of about eight to twelve inches. Your newborn will first start learning to focus his eyes by looking at faces of those holding him, and then gradually moving out to bright objects of interest brought near. Most newborns are able to momentarily hold their gaze on an object for a few seconds, and many will start to follow people or moving objects with their eyes by 8-12 weeks. Initially, your child would have to move his whole head to move his eyes, but by 2-4 months he would start to move his eyes independently with much less head movement. This shows that he is beginning to develop tracking and eye teaming skills.
There is no cause for alarm if you find the eyes of your child seem to be crossing. It occurs often under the age of 4 months. This simply means that your child has not yet learnt to use his eyes together as he has not yet developed enough neuromuscular control. The crossing of the eyes should stop by 4 or 5 months when he has learnt to coordinate his eye movements as a team. However, it could indicate a problem if you are seeing your infant’s eyes cross after this time, and you should seek the advice of your family optometrist.
Infants (4 – 12 Months)
By 4 months of age, your child’s visual system should have developed the ability to see in full colour. At this age, your infant is also developing his eye-body coordination as he learns to push himself up, roll over, and sit. Likewise, 4 to 6 month old babies become quite skilful with their eye-hand coordination, able to direct a bottle into the mouth or grasp at objects freely. The hands of your child become his most important tool as he reaches for almost everything he sees! This is also the time he will start to work on remembering the things around him.
Your child will be able to judge distances well by the time he is 8 to 12 month old. His developing eye, hand, body coordination will allow him to grasp and throw objects fairly accurately. Other developing perception skills such as visual memory and visual discrimination will further help your child make sense of his exciting new world. Additionally, the integration of his vision and fine motor coordination allows him to manipulate smaller objects, and he may begin feeding himself with finger foods. Once your child begins to walk, he will learn to use his eyes to direct and coordinate his body’s large muscle groups to guide his body movements.
Toddlers (1– 3 Years)
As for toddlers, their vision continues to develop throughout their preschool years. It is also important for your child to continue development of eye, hand, body coordination, eye teaming, and depth perception. Simple games and exercises such as stacking building blocks, rolling a ball back and forth, colouring, drawing, cutting, or assembling lock-together toys all help improve these important skills. Furthermore, reading to your toddler is strongly encouraged as this activity will help develop strong visualisation skills as most children will “picture” the story that is being told to them in their minds. In addition, your child should have his first eye exam by the age of 3, and sooner if vision problems run in the family. This is to ensure that the optometrist can check if vision is developing normally and detect any problems early.
5 Tell-tale Signs To Detect A Vision Problem In Your Child (All Age Groups)
- Trouble moving eyes in all directions
- Eyes that jiggle quickly from side-to-side or up-and-down and cannot hold still
- Keeping eyes closed much of the time
- Pupil appears white
- Extreme sensitivity to light
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