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A Child's Visual Milestones
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How well does your baby see?  It may be difficult to know how well a child sees or should see early in life.  Since infants and young children are unable to tell us about visual difficulties, parents must watch a child’s behaviour for early indicators of vision problems.  Reaching visual milestones on time is essential to a child’s general development and school readiness, as well as life-long vision skills.

From birth to 1 month, a baby should fixate briefly on bright lights or faces, although one or both eyes may wander out of position.  Black and white contours (horizontal and vertical) are most stimulating to vision at this age.

By age 1-3 months, a baby will begin to watch his/her parent’s face when being talked to.  The eyes will follow moving objects horizontally and will look towards new sounds.  Primary colours and lights are most stimulating to vision at this age.

Between ages 3-5 months, many visual skills begin to develop, including focusing, convergence, 3D vision and colour discrimination.  A child will begin to reach for nearby objects and to look at items held in his/her hand.

Eye-hand co-ordination continues to develop rapidly between ages 5-7 months.  The eyes should be straight most of the time by this age.  A baby also begins to look for more distant objects and people around the room. At this age, parents are recommended to take their child in for an eye exam by an optometrist. They will examine a number of things including the health of the babies eyes and see if the eyes are working together properly.

Many visual skills reach full development by age 7-12 months, and a baby will use accurate focusing, eye tracking and depth perception to locate, recognize and crawl / move towards objects of interest.  Longer periods of attention to books and/or television also are shown.  Imitation of social gestures (smiling, waving, etc.) develops.

By age 12-18 months, a baby demonstrates more visually-guided behaviours.  He/she often will play hide-and-seek or peek-a-boo and be able to point to pictures in books, identifying likenesses and differences between them.   Eye-hand co-ordination is adequate to build a tower of up to 4-5 cubes and to make circular strokes with a crayon.

Drawing ability improves between ages 18 months – 2 years.  A child begins to hold a crayon with an adult grasp, and makes vertical and horizontal strokes easily.  As walking ability becomes more stable, a child is able to move easily across changes in flooring (carpet to floor, stairs, inclines, etc.).

By age 2-3 years, a child begins to imitate play and develops the ability to run, jump, hop, and skip with fewer trips or falls.  By this age, eye-hand co-ordination is adequate to build a tower of 10 cubes, copy a circle and a cross, and begin to cut paper with scissors. Children should be having their eyes examined again by an optometrist at this point to ensure they are seeing well and the eyes are continuing to develop properly ready for school.

Increasing skill develops by age 4-5 years, and a child will be able to draw simple forms, print letters, colour within lines, cut and paste simple shapes.  He/she also will demonstrate visual experience by telling about places, objects or people seen elsewhere.

While all the age ranges given above are approximate, any definite delay warrants a professional eye examination as soon as possible.  Early identification and correction of vision problems is essential so that every child can see and learn to the best of his/her ability.

Ontario optometrists are emphasizing the importance of early vision care through the Eye See…Eye Learn program.   The Ontario Association of Optometrists is partnering with local school boards, schools and kindergarten teachers to encourage junior kindergarten students to visit a local optometrist for a comprehensive eye examination (covered by OHIP). 

Eye glasses are provided free of charge to children who need them.  Eye See….Eye Learn currently is offered in Hamilton-Wentworth, Halton, Dufferin-Peel and Windsor-Essex school districts. Visit www.eyeseeeyelearn.ca to find an optometrist near you or to find out more about the Eye See…Eye Learn program.

Article provided by Dr. Catherine Chiarelli, Ontario Optometrist

For more information on children's vision and eye exams for children, visit the website of our Eye See... Eye Learn Program by clicking here.