“When should I have my child’s first eye exam?”
A lot of parents ask me when is the best time for their child to have their first eye exam. I tell them I start seeing children as early as 6 months of age. It’s actually a free exam (for babies 6-12 months of age) because I participate in a non-profit public health program called InfantSEE. This program is sponsored by President Jimmy Carter who is a strong supporter of children’s vision. He had 2 grandchildren go through school with amblyopia (lazy eye), a condition that could have been cured if detected but was missed at regular vision screenings. At an infant exam I test for things like lazy eye, eye turns, significant refractive errors like far-sightedness, near-sightedness, and astigmatism, and retinal blastoma. Many parents are surprised that children can be examined at that age, but there are many things we can detect without the patient being able to respond. After this first exam in infancy, I like to see them again when they are 3 years of age and again at age 5, or before kindergarten.
“Is the vision screening my child gets before kindergarten good enough?”
The answer is no. Screenings don’t check the whole visual system and there is more to vision than just seeing the 20/20 line. Some kids that pass screenings can’t even see the 20/20 line either with one or both eyes! I strongly recommend a complete eye exam for children, not just a vision screening. I have given too many eye exams to children who ‘passed’ all of their vision screenings that were in desperate need of vision correction! Much of what we learn is taken in through the visual system, so it just makes sense that our children’s vision is at its maximum potential before starting school.
“Won’t my child tell me when they can’t see well?”
Some kids will, but some kids don’t know the difference. If they’ve always seen poorly, they think that is how the world looks, that is normal, that is how everyone sees the world. Because they’ve never seen any better, they don’t complain! And if it’s not in their personality to complain, they might not say anything either.