Learning is 80% visual. To ensure that children are seeing clearly and developing normally, it is important for their eyes and vision to be checked by an optometrist regularly.
The Canadian Association of Optometrists recommends that children have their eyes examined by an optometrist for the first time at six months of age and then annually after that. Children’s eyes can change rapidly and more frequent exams may be required in cases where the child has vision problems or certain risk factors such as crossed or lazy eyes, a family history of ocular issues, developmental delays or previous injuries.
Over the first few months of life, your baby’s vision will change from seeing blurred patterns of light and dark to seeing colours across the room. At six months of age, your baby will have learned how to focus and move their eyes together, and their brain is learning how to process that visual information so they can understand and interact with the world.
Eyesight is the foundation for the development of motor skills, including crawling, walking and hand–eye coordination.
At this exam, we’re checking for conditions that could impair vision and eye health to ensure your child is seeing properly and that their eyes are developing as expected. We can use shapes, pictures and other fun toys to evaluate your child’s visual system.
The rapid development of intellectual and motor skills during the preschool years depends on children having good vision and visual processes. This ensures that your child develops the fine motor skills, hand–eye coordination and perceptual abilities that will grow as they learn to read, write, play sports, create arts and crafts and interact with their world.
At this exam, it’s important to let us know if you’ve noticed anything that you’re concerned about with your children’s vision. This includes signs of a lazy eye (closing or covering one eye or always tilting their head in one direction) crossed eye (one eye turns in or out, squinting, rubbing or excessive blinking of the eyes). Other behaviours to note may include if your child is irritable, has a short attention span or a lack of concentration and shows visible frustration or grimaces when trying to do certain activities. Children may even avoid certain activities, such as reading or watching TV. We may also ask about any developmental delays that involve recognition or coordination of objects, letters, numbers or colours.
While in school and during play, a child’s eyes are constantly in use. Children use several different visual skills that work together to allow them to see and understand their world.
When visual skills are impaired or not working at all, children must work harder to see. This can cause children to complain of visual fatigue or headaches, or they may avoid activities that involve increased visual demands. When vision problems go undetected or uncorrected, they can affect children and teens academically, socially, athletically and personally. Twenty-five percent of school-aged children have vision problems; often, those with visual issues won’t even realize they are not seeing normally. School-aged children should have annual exams because any problems that are identified will usually respond better when treated early.
The eye exam for school-aged children will test for their basic visual acuity and will assess visual skills required for learning and mobility. This includes binocular vision (how your child uses their eyes together as a team), their focusing system, colour vision and tracking. We will also assess the health of the eyes.
We recommend dilation eye drops for all patients during comprehensive exams—no matter their age. This ensures we get the best view of the structures in the back of the eye to make sure they’re healthy. Depending on the type of drop we use, your child’s pupils will be dilated for a few hours but, in some cases, they may stay dilated for longer. We will let you know what to expect. Because having dilated pupils can make your child sensitive to bright light, we recommend that you bring their normal sunglasses to their appointment. If your child did not bring sunglasses, we will provide them with a temporary pair. Dilation will also make close-up vision blurry, but most children are not too bothered by this and can return to their regular daily activities after their exam.
We know that getting eye drops can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be. We will work at making your child comfortable from the beginning of their exam so they develop a level of trust with our staff and Dr. Jenn. This helps to reduce their worry about getting eye drops. We have different techniques for administering the eye drops and we can work with your child to make sure they feel like they are in control of the process. Many children are comfortable getting their drops on their own but, if they are anxious, they can always hold a parent’s or caregiver’s hand or, if they’ve brought along a special stuffed animal, they may choose to hug them extra tight when they get their eye drops.
We want all of our patients to feel comfortable and to trust us, so we ask that parents and caregivers not tell children “the drops don’t hurt.” This is because if the child feels discomfort during the administration of the drops, we can lose their trust, which can make completing the exam an uncomfortable experience for them.
Instead you’ll hear us explain to your child that the drops “might tickle a little, but it will go away soon.” Then, you and your child can return to the waiting room to colour or take a little walk around while the drops work their magic, before going back to complete the exam.