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When Should Your Child Have Their First Eye Exam?

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An optometrist giving a child an eye exam

Vision care is a crucial aspect of overall health, especially in the early years of development. It’s during these formative years that children learn and explore the world around them, relying heavily on their vision. Among the milestones parents look forward to, a baby’s first eye exam may not be at the top of the list. The Canadian Association of Optometrists recommends children have their first eye exam between 6 and 9 months of age, which can detect issues such as lazy eye or myopia, which are more manageable when caught early.

Why 6 Months?

At six months, babies begin to focus more clearly and start to develop depth perception. The optics of their eyes continue to mature, and problems related to eye alignment and focusing can become apparent. An early exam can address potential vision issues and help parents plan for their child’s future.  

What to Expect 

During a pediatric eye exam, the optometrist will look for normal eye development and signs of potential issues. This will involve tracking your baby’s eye movements, evaluating their ability to fixate and follow objects, assessing their pupillary reactions, and using specialized equipment to determine if there are any refractive errors.

Understanding Vision Testing for Toddlers

Vision testing for toddlers can present unique challenges. Communication is limited, cooperation is variable, and the testing methods must be adapted. 

How Do You Test a 2-Year-Old’s Vision?

Testing a 2-year-old’s vision involves using shapes, letters, or pictures that can tell the eye doctor if your child shows normal visual development or if there are any problems. The optometrist will engage your child with playful yet informative activities. The methods may include:

  • Picture tests, where the child is asked to identify images such as a house or a tree
  • Tumbling E charts, which use the letter “E” facing in different directions to assess the child’s visual understanding
  • Random dot stereopsis tests, which assess the child’s binocular vision and depth perception
A child smiling while an optometrist holds optical trial frames to the child's face to test her vision.

Recognizing the Need For Glasses in Children

How can you tell if your child needs glasses? Signs can often be subtle, and kids may not even realize they’re experiencing vision problems. 

Some common signs your child may need glasses include:

  • Squinting or closing one eye to see better
  • Holding objects or books very close to their face
  • Headaches, particularly during activities that require a lot of visual focus
  • Tilting the head to one side when looking at something

My Child’s Teacher Says They Are Not Paying Attention

While lack of attention in school can be due to various factors, if it’s related to vision, the child may not be able to see the board or read the materials. It’s always prudent to rule out vision as a cause of concentration difficulties.

Encouraging & Facilitating Glasses Wear

If your child does need glasses, getting them to wear them is the next challenge. It’s important to make sure your child understands the importance of maintaining good vision and that glasses are a tool to help with this. For older children who are more interested in contact lenses, they may have success with them as early as 8 years old. Ask your eye doctor for more information if you think that may work for you and your child. 

Choosing Frames Wisely

Involving your child in choosing their glasses can make a difference in their attitude towards wearing them. Select frames that fit comfortably and that the child feels good in. Modern colorful, durable frames can even be a source of excitement for children.

Setting Realistic Expectations

At first, wearing glasses might be uncomfortable or feel strange. Set a schedule for wearing them and gradually increase the time. Praise your child for wearing them, especially if they’re trying hard.

Dealing with Social Stigmas

Sometimes, children are resistant to wearing glasses because they’re worried about what others will think. Talk to your child about the importance of vision and that glasses are a common and even stylish necessity for many people.

The Multiple Pairs of Glasses Question

Once your child is on board with wearing glasses, the next logical question parents have is, “How many pairs do we need?” Having a backup pair of glasses can be helpful, especially for children who can be rough on their belongings or are forgetful. A second pair can also reduce the burden for parents if the primary pair is misplaced or damaged.

For children who are active in sports, specially designed sports lenses can protect their eyes and help prevent injury. Sports lenses can be selected for most frames. If your child’s vision requires multifocal lenses, consider them for their ease of use and to prevent children from misplacing multiple pairs of glasses. 

Getting Started 

Your child’s vision is essential to their development and success. Being proactive by scheduling early, regular exams and paying attention to any signs of vision issues can set them on a path toward optimal eye health. At Henderson Vision Centre, we’re dedicated to providing thorough and compassionate vision care for families. Our experienced team understands the unique needs of young patients and strives to create a welcoming and comfortable environment. Schedule an appointment for your child with Henderson Vision Centre today.

Written by Dr. Melina Chow

Dr. Chow received her Doctor of Optometry from the University of Waterloo in 2005. She has been an integral part of the Henderson Vision team for over 15 years, moving back to her hometown immediately upon graduating from university. When she isn’t at the clinic, Dr. Chow runs circles trying to keep up with her two energetic boys. Once she’s had enough cardio, she enjoys baking and planning her next vacation.
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