Young children’s eye health—like the rest of their physical well-being—is a critical component to establishing a healthy, productive foundation, allowing them to develop visually guided eye-hand-body coordination, fine motor skills, and perceptual abilities necessary to flourish.
Taking steps to be sure your preschool child’s vision is developing normally can provide them with a strong head start for reading and writing, among other things, which is why an early eye examination is crucial. Yet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says only 39% of preschool children have had their vision tested.
Between the ages of 3 and 5, a child should have a thorough, in-person eye examination by an optometrist, according to the American Optometric Association (AOA). An exam by an optometrist or ophthalmologist is more comprehensive than a vision screening by a child’s pediatrician or at his or her preschool.
Vision screenings are typically a limited process not used to diagnose an eye or vision problem but rather to indicate a potential need for further evaluation. Screenings may miss up to 60% of children with vision problems, according to AOA.
Preschool age is often when children develop eye conditions like “crossed eyes” (strabismus) or “lazy eye” (amblyopia), and a parent who suspects any eye problem such as these should schedule and examination. Vision and eye problems in young children are often correctable through early detection when a child’s visual system is still developing. To make your child’s eye examination a positive experience, AOA suggests:
- Making an appointment early in the day and allow about one hour.
- Talking about the exam in advance and encourage your child’s questions.
- Explaining the exam in terms your child can understand, comparing the common “E” eye chart to a puzzle and the instruments to tiny flashlights and a kaleidoscope.
Roughly 10% of preschoolers in the U.S. have some type of eye or vision problem, according to the American Public Health Association, but children this age often don’t voice any complaints or problems with their eyes. Parents should watch for these signs from AOA that may indicate a vision problem, including:
- Sitting close to the TV or holding a book too close.
- Tilting their head.
- Covering an eye.
- Frequently rubbing their eyes.
- Short attention span for the child’s age.
- Turning of an eye in or out.
- Sensitivity to light.
- Difficulty with eye-hand-body coordination when playing ball or riding a bike.
- Avoiding coloring activities, puzzles, and other detailed activities.
Contact a Department of Consumer Affairs licensee for assistance with your child’s vision: California State Board of Optometry licensees focus on vision care and services, the Medical Board of California licenses ophthalmologists, and Osteopathic Medical Board of California licensees can specialize in ophthalmology and vision care services. Any medical professional’s license can be verified at https://search.dca.ca.gov.