I am excited to share a post by my friend Katherine, occupational therapist and handwriting specialist who writes over at Handwriting with Katherine. Today Katherine shares with us valuable information about vision development and health in young children. Though my daughter is followed closely by a pediatric ophthalmologist because of her juvenile arthritis (did you know JA can attack the eyes and cause blindness!?), I have to admit that my boys, ages 3.5 and one, have never been to an eye doctor. This is fantastic information for all parents. ENJOY.
Once again, I am honored to have the pleasure of sharing information on Katie’s wonderful site! She has always supported my work and was the first blogger to offer me an opportunity to share it! I hope you enjoy this blog and will comment and share your thoughts, as well!
If I asked you to consider leaving your child’s physical health to chance by canceling his pediatric wellness visits, would you?
Suppose I advised you to ignore his health in the face of unusual physical symptoms, such as excessive fatigue or lack of appetite, could you? And if I suggested that you include an optometric assessment in your child’s wellness plan, would you consider it? What if I told you that this visit was as vital to your child’s vision health as the others are for his physical needs, would you believe me?
That’s okay. This isn’t a graded test! It’s just a conversation starter to help us begin a short fact-finding journey about vision health! Now, stop that yawning! Vision is an interesting topic! It is not simply a matter of eyesight. While eyesight is the common label for vision and is very important, vision is actually an exciting set of 17 skills (1), only one of which is 20/20 eyesight. This entire set of vision skills are brain-centered and impact your child’s ability to learn in school, play sports, and, in fact, do most of what he does in his daily life. Vision doesn’t “happen” in the eyes. The eyes are actually a part of the brain and act as the sensory receptors that collect the light and transmit it to the brain for interpretation. According to the American Optometric Association (2), “Vision occurs neither in the eyes nor in the brain, but emerges from the collaboration of the eyes and the rest of the brain.” Vision is a learned behavior, just like walking and reading, and can be remediated, if needed. Hence, your child’s eyes and their health are very important wellness considerations.
Let’s take a look at some vision facts, shall we?
- “Of the three to four million babies born every year in the United States, (3) 1 in 20,000 has retinoblastoma, (4) 1 in 25 will develop strabismus,(5) and 1 in 30 will develop amblyopia.”(6)
- “It is estimated that nearly 25% of school-age children have vision problems.” (7)
- “11.5% of teenagers have undetected or untreated vision problems.” (7)
- “The earlier a vision problem is diagnosed and treated, the less the potential negative impact it may have on the child’s development.” (7)
The development of vision skills begins at birth.
Of course, we all know that, at first, a child begins exploring his environment mostly with his hearing and with a very narrow focus on events through his eyes. As he develops movement skills, he discovers that he can experience more of what is happening next to him if he turns his head toward the noises he hears. Vision continues to develop as children use this skill to process 80% of what they learn – at home, in school, and in their world. So, it makes sense that their vision skills should be efficient! Let’s explore how you can help to ensure that your child’s vision is healthy.
The first step in this process is for you to be observant.
A baby’s eye can appear to drift or turn in or out normally. However, if you note that one eye seems to behave this way consistently, then it is important to have his vision assessed by a developmental optometrist. (8) A baby’s first vision assessment should occur at 6 months of age, as most vision concerns are not visible – ironic, eh? (And you can get a free first exam! Everyone can!) (9) As your child begins to learn to crawl, grasp, and manipulate objects, it is wise to watch for diminished eye-hand coordination where he may repeatedly miss the mark as he reaches for toys or often overlooks objects that are placed close to him. Observe his ability to survey his environment and seek out noises, noting how well he can locate and venture toward them. As he progresses through the developmental stages in his first and second years, encourage his visual learning by offering him toys with fit-together parts, matching games, and opportunities to scribble with his crayons. Observe his skill with completing age-appropriate tasks and note any aversion he may have to any particular fine-motor activities.
Toddlers begin to develop their pre-school skills as they imitate movements and learn gross motor games. Your child is enhancing his body awareness skills (10) and using his visual perceptual skills (11) to learn about his body and how he can travel through space (his local environment, that is!). Observe his playground movements to note any stumbling or falling that is not age-appropriate. Take note of his climbing and crawling skills to be aware of any behaviors that may indicate that he is having difficulty with recognizing barriers in his path. Fine-motor play is a perfect time to observe his eye-hand coordination skills and learn about his vision needs. If your child repeatedly misses objects on one side of the table or has difficulty with age appropriate puzzles or matching games, he could be experiencing vision problems. A child’s second visit for a vision assessment should be scheduled for his 3rd year, unless otherwise specified by your developmental optometrist at his first visit.
As your child begins to prepare for “real school,” enters Kindergarten and then first grade, he is developing the visual perceptual skills that will allow him to trace, copy, and draw. He will enjoy sorting and math games, learning to identify likenesses and differences, and reproducing letters and numbers. As a parent, you’ve observed your child’s progress through the developmental stages and possess the best knowledge your child’s skills so far. As he enters these elementary school years, it is important to coordinate with his teachers to communicate any behaviors that may indicate a vision problem. You can find a handy Vision Red Flags Checklist here (13) )that can help you work with teachers toward catching these issues before they interfere with your child’s educational progress. (You can begin this communication with his preschool teachers, as well.) Your child should have a complete vision assessment before he enters Kindergarten.
The second step in this process is to encourage your child’s vision development.
It has been found that guided and individual play with toys and games that encourage fine and gross motor movement are important for the development of a child’s vision skills. From rolling over to crawling, walking, and finally to running, vision develops with opportunities to search for and manipulate objects in the environment. Efficient eye-hand coordination benefits from fine motor activities that include building, creating, and revising. Take-apart toys, arts and crafts, and even bathing and dressing tasks provide fine-motor experiences that encourage vision development. Learning, at all stages of development, should be fun. When vision is not healthy, however, learning can be a chore and defeated.
Would you ignore your child’s pediatric wellness visits? Of course not! Then please remember their vision assessments!
It is important to note here that each child develops according to his or her own plan. Your pediatrician is the best person for determining the need for concern about developmental milestones. (14)
Thank you so much for joining me here for an eye-opening discussion on vision health! I’ll see you at the optometrist’s!
Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who owns and operates a clinic that specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills. She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.
Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.
(1) 17 skills: http://www.covd.org/?page=Visual_Skills
(2) American Optometric Association: http://www.aoa.org/optometrists/education-and-training/clinical-care/vision-a-collaboration-of-eyes-and-brain?sso=y
(3) “of the three to four million babies born each year in the United States”: http://www.infantsee.org/x3423.xml
(4) retinoblastoma: http://kidshealth.org/parent/medical/cancer/retinoblastoma.html#
(6) amblyopia: http://www.childrensvision.com/lazyeye.htm
(7) the three statistical quotes in that list were drawn from here: http://www.aoa.org/optometrists/education-and-training/clinical-care/the-need-for-comprehensive-vision-examination-of-preschool-and-school-age-children?sso=y
(8) a baby’s first vision assessment should occur at 6 months of age: http://www.covd.org
(9) free first exam: http://www.infantsee.org
(10) body awareness skills: http://www.childdevelopmentclub.org/index.php/blog/blog-posts/140-life-is-a-series-of-baby-steps-part-4
(11) visual perceptual skills: http://blog.handwritingwithkatherine.com/visual-perceptual-skills-keys-learning/
(13) Vision Red Flags Checklist: http://www.handwritingwithkatherine.com/links-and-resources.html
(14) developmental milestones: http://www.cdc.gov/NCBDDD/actearly/milestones/index.html