Resolution for the new year: get your child’s vision checked

As I was reflecting on Zoe’s 9 years in glasses recently, I was thinking about how the importance of early vision exams is still not well known for parents, so I thought I’d offer this suggestion for a New Year’s resolution: if you haven’t had your child’s vision tested, make an appointment to get it tested.

phoropter (very dilated eye)

Zoe at the eye doctor

[visual description: young girl with face painting and glasses in the eye doctor’s exam chair]

If you have a young child and you’re wondering if they may have a vision issue — go, get them checked out now. Vision issues are notoriously hard for parents or pediatricians to catch in young kids without a full vision exam. As it turns out, a pediatric vision exam is a pretty easy, non-invasive way to either get peace of mind or, if your child does have a vision problem, get moving on treatment.  The American Optometric Association recommends that a child’s first vision exam be between 6 and 12 months.

If you live the the US, there’s a program called InfantSEE that offers free vision exams for babies aged 6 – 12 months, done by optometrists who have undergone extra training to do pediatric vision exams. Even if you’re outside of that age group, pediatric eye care is required to be covered under the Affordable Care Act.

Why is it important to treat vision issues early?

  • Early treatment of vision issues can reduce the risk of developing amblyopia (sometimes called “lazy eye”), and amblyopia that is caught early is more likely to be treated successfully (2016 study on treatment of amblyopia and amblyopia risk factors).
  • Preschoolers with uncorrected vision issues have lower early literacy scores (2016 Vision in Preschoolers study), and school-aged children with uncorrected vision issues often struggle to keep up academically (e.
  • Kids with serious vision issues, those that cannot be fully corrected with glasses, can get in to early intervention programs that can help develop their vision to its greatest potential and equip them with skills to thrive with less than perfect vision.

How prevalent are vision issues in children?

According to the 2009 Baltimore Pediatric Eye Disease study, about 1 in 20 preschoolers meet the criteria for needing glasses (and only about 1 or 2 out of 100 actually have glasses).

What are some signs that my young child might have a vision problem?

Many kids show no signs that they aren’t seeing well, or if they do show signs, those signs are subtle. Kids are extremely adaptable, and if they’ve never seen clearly, they likely don’t know that they could be seeing things more clearly.
Some signs (again, these can be very subtle, and there may not be any signs at all):

  • Eyes are not always aligned (they’re crossing or pointing outwards).
  • Unequal reflections in the eyes when you look at pictures taken from straight on with flash (if you’re seeing a white or gold glow in one or both eyes, please get your child’s vision checked right away).
  • Tilting their head frequently, especially when focusing on something.
  • Eyes that make rapid, seemingly uncontrolled movements.
  • Not making eye contact or not following toys with their eyes.
  • Closing or squinting one eye.
  • Sensitivity to light.
  • You can read through the comments on an open thread where parents talk about the signs they noticed that their child needed glasses.
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