The ability of young children to adapt, learn and play despite often significant eye conditions often leads many parents to miss the early signs of visual impairment, says qualified Orthoptist Handan Otay.
Handan, who specialises in diagnosing and treating children with vision and eye muscle problems, often works with parents who simply weren’t aware their child’s eyesight was impaired. “Most pre-school children don’t compare themselves with others and simply assume everyone sees the same way they do. Without knowing their sight is different there isn’t a trigger to tell their parents. It’s not until school, when they spend more time with peers and are expected to perform similar tasks, do their visual problems become apparent. If the vision is significantly reduced the child may have learning difficulties, behavioural issues, and social issues. Although often, if the visual problem is just in one eye, it goes unnoticed.”
The likelihood of missing the signs of visual impairment makes preschool eye screening vital. “Vision develops to maturity between the ages of 8-10 and the level of vision cannot be improved thereafter. The earlier parents treat any eye conditions before visual maturity is reached, the better the chance for improving their child’s sight. It is vital that all children have their eyes tested prior to starting school,” continued Handan.
Parents can take steps to check the eye health of their young children, Handan advises. Here she shares her 24-year’s expertise with the caveat, “that not all eye impairment is blindness, there can be many other eye conditions you child might be experiencing.
1. Be mindful of family history. If you, or a close family member have a history of eye issues it’s important to begin eye testing your child early. “You can start at just six months of age, and if instructed by a specialist, follow up with regular check ups,” said Handan.
2. Mum knows best. It’s true! Mother knows best when assessing eye health. From eight weeks, if your child doesn’t make eye contact or react to light, can’t follow a moving object, or their eyes don’t line up evenly, make sure you seek immediate testing.
3. Look for unusual behaviors. In older children, even if they have normal looking eyes, look for behavior that’s different. “Children with vision impairment may rub their eyes more often or have difficulty seeing things at night. They may also have hand-eye coordination issues and hold things closer to their faces,” said Handan.
4. Don’t worry unnecessarily about electronic devices. “Your child will not damage their eyes by sitting to close to the TV or playing video games. However they need to spend ample time in the sunshine for eye health. Australian research shows there are strong links between excessive study hours in school children and short sightedness (myopia).
5. Carrots are not a myth. For long-term eye health, Handan recommends children eat a diet rich in Beta-carotene (pro-vitamin A), found in carrots, Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, and Antioxidants found in leafy green vegetables.