Many parents are surprised to learn children do not have to be verbal or able to read to participate in a complete eye health examination. Infants can, and should, have a full eye assessment by the age of 6 months. There are certain symptoms that should prompt an earlier examination and these include any concerns that you have as a parent, or an eye turn (one eye that wanders in, out, up or down), red eyes, crusty eyelids, frequent infections, excessive tearing, a droopy eyelid, pupil abnormalities, an unusual head posture, lack of response to faces or objects, or a family history of ocular health issues.
Visual health is more than simply seeing well; at 6 months of age an infant’s visual system has already undergone tremendous development, and the external and internal structures of the eye can all be viewed with special instruments. Eye movement patterns and alignment can be checked, along with how accurately each of your baby’s eyes is focusing simply by having them sit on your lap and look at lights and toys.
Most parents are curious about what their infant sees, and how quickly their visual system develops as the baby ages. The first several months of life result in the greatest changes in your baby’s vision!
Newborns have limited eye co-ordination and focusing skills and they see a blurred world of light and dark patterns. Colour vision begins to develop at about 3 months of age and is quite well developed by the age of 6 months. Gradually, your infant’s focusing distance increases and within the first 2-4 months, your baby should begin following moving objects with their eyes and reaching for things; the accuracy increases as eye movement control and hand-eye co-ordination and depth perception develop and improve.
In order to develop connections between their eyes and their brain, babies need plenty of visual stimulation. Here are some suggestions to promote visual development:
- If your baby’s room allows for it , change the crib position in the room and baby’s position in the crib to allow for varied visual stimulation
- Keep reach and touch toys (large enough to avoid choking hazards) within your baby’s focus (15-30 cm). Allow for toys baby can touch and see at the same time; use toys of varying shapes and textures and toys with plenty of detail.
- Talk to your infant as your move around the room to give them a target to follow.
- Hang a mobile above the crib
- Encourage crawling to allow your baby to explore their world while developing eye-hand-foot co-ordination
- If you have older children encourage playtime with baby as your baby will learn to imitate them.
Your local optometrist would love to meet you and your baby, and introduce you both to comprehensive eye health examinations and the beginning of a lifetime of visual health.