As a parent, it may surprise you when your child starts to exhibit the common behaviours associated with poor vision. At first, you may not even realise there is a problem. Children are very adaptive and, if they are born with a refractive error, will not know the difference between perfect vision and their own until they see through appropriate corrective lenses for the first time. Here are five behaviours that may indicate your child needs to see a paediatric optometrist.
Your child may lean abnormally close to or far away from activities such as colouring books and puzzles. Even though your toddler is very young and may not be able to articulate what he sees yet, his brain already knows about his refractive error and compensates for it instinctively. While it is normal for small kids to stand too close to the television, watch how he responds elsewhere. If he is always leaning an inch from the page or holding it at arm’s length, you will want to take him for a vision screening.
You may notice squinting in one or both eyes. Your child may also close one eye frequently. Once again, these behaviours are the product of the brain compensating for poor vision. Squinting can help draw objects into sharper focus. Squinting or closing only one eye usually indicates which eye is weaker, as the brain wants to ignore the inferior eye and focus solely employing the better eye. Some kids do squint when they are concentrating on a task, but if you notice it frequently it is time for a vision evaluation.
The child may be abnormally clumsy. While a certain amount of clumsiness is to be expected from children of all ages, kids with vision issues may run face-first into walls, trip over small objects, or have trouble with hand-eye coordination. If your child seems clumsier than everyone else on the playground or has problems with simple tasks, it’s time for an eye exam.
Your toddler’s eyes do not always follow one another. Some people are born with the ability to make their eyes point in different directions or even make them move independently. However, this is a skill normally honed among school-aged kids. Small children’s eyes should almost always follow one another. The only exception is if the child is consciously ‘crossing’ their eyes in jest. If you notice one eye is wandering, rolling upward, or not quite meeting your gaze, you should have him or her evaluated immediately. If you think you are noticing a wandering eye, check carefully while your child is very tired and ready for bed. Being sleepy can sometimes exaggerate this symptom.
The child shows no interest in activities happening on the other side of the room or play area. Toddlers with refractive errors in their vision will often ignore a parent who enters the room until they hear the parent speak or make noise. Others may ignore toys that are mere steps away. Some toddlers will even make the mistake of running up to a stranger dressed in the same colour as mom or dad, confusing them for the parent.
Parents should watch the child to see if he or she reacts to people and toys on the outskirts of the room or the other side of a small playground. Children can be so nearsighted that anything farther away than a few feet is nothing but a blur. Parents can easily miss these outward signs of poor vision in their children. By checking for these common behaviours, parents can notice when a child has a refractive error and make an appointment with a paediatric optometrist for an evaluation.