Learning To See

Did you know that Newborns have all the eye structures necessary to see, but they haven’t learned to use them yet? Your baby holds the eyes roughly straight at birth from the BALANCE centers in the brain, NOT the vision centers.  This tells you how much work has to be done to see normally.  Thus, VISION IS A LEARNED SKILL, NOT an automatic one. 

Birth to Four Months  

Newborns can hold their gaze on an object for a few seconds, but by 8-12 weeks they should start to follow people or moving objects with their eyes.  By 2-4 months they should start to move their eyes independently with much less head movement. 

When infants start to visually follow moving objects, they begin to develop tracking and eye teaming skills. Young infants haven't developed enough control yet to keep their eyes from crossing. 

By four months, babies start to reach for objects, the beginning of eye-hand coordination.  Their visual system is now able to see in full color, and they're exposed to an exciting new world!  

Four to Six Months

As babies learn to roll over, sit, and scoot; eye-body coordination develops as they learn to control their own movements. 

Eye-hand coordination improves. Their hands become their most important tool--they reach for almost everything they see! 

By the fifth month, babies' brains have learned how to put together the pictures coming in from both eyes into a single image for "two-eyed" vision with strong depth perception.

 Eye teaming and focusing skills are refined as they learn to look quickly and accurately between near and far distances. Sharpness of vision has usually developed to 20/20 by the time the child reaches six months. 

Six to Eight Months  

Most babies start crawling during this time, further developing eye-body coordination. 

They learn to judge distances and set visual goals, seeing something and moving to get it.  

By the sixth month, babies acquire fairly accurate eye movement control. 

Eight to Twelve Months  

Babies can now judge distances well. Eye/hand/body coordination allows them to grasp and throw objects fairly accurately. 

The integration of their vision and eye hand coordination allows babies to manipulate smaller objects, and many begin feeding themselves with finger foods.

 Once children start walking, they learn to use their eyes to direct and coordinate their bodies' large muscle groups to guide their whole body movements.  

Toddlers and Preschoolers  

Children’s vision continues to develop throughout their preschool years. As toddlers, it is important for them to continue development of eye/hand/body coordination, eye teaming, and depth perception.

 Stacking building blocks, rolling a ball, coloring, drawing or assembling lock-together toys all help improve these important skills. 

Reading to young children is also important. They develop strong visualization skills as they "picture" the story in their minds.

A child should have his first eye exam by age three, so the optometrist can check if vision is developing normally. Vision should be checked again when the child enters school.  

School-Aged Children  

IT'S CRITICAL to have a complete eye examination before starting school.  Only one child in 7 does this.  Your pediatrician can NOT do this, neither can the school nurse. 

The optometrist needs to determine if a child’s vision system is adequately prepared to handle reading, writing and other close work. 

The demands of schoolwork can put too much stress on a child’s visual system. Toddlers use their eyes mostly for looking at distance, school requires children's eyes to focus on very close, small work for hours every day. This can cause vision problems to arise. Children seldom realize that their eyes are under too much strain, and they rarely report vision problems. Because their vision is "normal" to them, they think everyone sees the way they do.  

But children can pass a school eye chart test and still have undetected vision problems which are affecting their school work. The eye chart just checks a child’s sharpness of vision at distance (20/20), but reading requires many other visual skills. The eye chart test can’t tell is a child’s eyes are healthy, or if he can track a line of print without losing his place, focus his eyes comfortably, or use his two eyes together for long periods of time. School vision screenings are no substitute for a complete eye examination by your family optometrist.  

Choosing an Eye Doctor for Learning-Related Vision Problems

In order to check if your child has developed adequate visual skills for success in school, your choice of an eye doctor is very important.  Routine exams will check to see if your child's eyes are healthy and if he/she needs glasses to see clearly, and all eye doctors can do this.  However, children who struggle in school need additional tests beyond a routine eye exam.  Here are some help in choosing an eye doctor:

Most optometrists aren't specially trained in children's vision care. WE ARE. We have the largest, children's vision practice in Kansas. Ideally, you need a pediatric optometrist who specializes in learning-related vision problems.  These optometrists are called "developmental" optometrists, and they are credentialed and board certified.  See COVD.ORG for more information.


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