As soon as children are born, they begin to use their vision. Long before motor skills, chidren are already learning about their world through their eyes, mouths, nose, and ears. But they’re just starting to use these senses. The eyes are not fully developed at birth and contrary to the common myth, the eyes are not completely ‘grown’ at birth. As such, the eyes may wonder or cross in the early months. Parents understandably are concerned when they see their babies eyes drift apart or together, but if it’s an occasional thing, then no worries.
Pediatricians will look at newborn eyes for pathology like congenital cataract, and other issues, but it’s too early to know exactly how the child sees at this point. If a child is born, prematurely, then they may need to be evaluated for a condition called “retinopathy of prematurity”. If so, the pediatrician will make this recommendation.
The American Optometric Association and the American Academy of Ophthalomogy recommend children have their first comprehensive eye evaluation around their third birthday. This is the time for a complete examination for the following reasons:
- Children do not complain about their vision. They adapt to the vision they have and rarely complain if the vision is not perfect since it’s just ‘normal’ for them.
- Now is the time to detect developmental problems and ambloyopia(when the vision is not developing because of underlying vision issues). After the age of 5 or 6, the prognosis for improvement greatly diminishes.
- School and pediatric screenings miss too many problems. National studies have determined that one-third of children with vision problems will pass the school and pediatrician’s screening tests. This means that many children are given a note that says their vision is fine…..when it’s not.
So, take your child to the eye doctor around their third birthday and the doctor will advise you on how frequently exams are needed after their evaluation. Do not rely on screening tests in place of a complete evaluation. It’s just too important.