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Babies are not born with all the immediate visual abilities they need in life, such as focusing and moving their eyes accurately and using them together as a team. These skills are learned over a period of time as they develop.

From birth, they explore with their eyes the amazing world around them, even before their motor skills begin to develop. Their eyes provide information and stimulation important for their development.

Healthy eyes and good vision play a major role in how infants and children learn to see. To ensure the proper visual development of your child, take the following action as a parent:

  • Watch closely for signs of eye and vision problems.
  • Consult an optometrist for your child's first comprehensive eye exam when he or she is about 6 months.
  • Help the development of your child's vision through age-appropriate activities.

Infant Vision from birth to four months

During the first four months, a baby cannot see the biggest letter on the eye chart, unlike an older child or adult who may see it as far away as 200 feet. At this time, their eyes do not focus on objects farther away than eight to ten inches from their faces.

As the eyes begin to work together during the early months, vision quickly improves. The coordination between eye and hand develops and the baby starts tracking moving objects and reaches for them. By eight weeks, they can focus their eyes on the face of a parent or other person close by.

During the first two months, a baby's uncoordinated eyes may wander or appear crossed. This is quite normal unless an eye turns in or out constantly. By four months, your baby should follow moving objects and reach for things.

Five to eight months

A baby will gain further control of eye movement and eye-body coordination skills during this time.

The ability to differentiate between the various proximities of objects is not present at birth. This skill is called depth perception and will only kick in around the fifth month when the eyes work together to form a three-dimensional view of the world.

It is generally accepted that babies have good color vision by age five months although their color vision may not be as sensitive as an adult's.

Babies begin crawling around eight months, and this precipitates the coordinated development of eye, hand, foot and body. Research has also shown that early walkers, who did minimal crawling, may not learn to use both eyes properly compared with babies who crawl a lot.

Nine to twelve months

Babies usually learn to stand at this time and grasp objects with thumb and forefinger. By twelve months, they should be crawling and trying to walk. To help your child develop better hand-eye coordination, you should encourage crawling rather than early walking.

Judging distances will have improved considerably, and throwing things is a piece of cake.

Twelve to twenty-four months

When children reach the age of two years, their hand-eye coordination and depth perception are usually well developed. At this age they take great interest in exploring their environment and can intently look and listen. Familiar objects, such as pictures or books, are recognizable and they take great delight in scribbling with crayon or pencil.

Symptoms of Eye and Vision Problems

Most babies start out with healthy eyes and develop the visual abilities needed without difficulty. Eye and vision problems in infants is rare. But there will be instances when such problems arise and parents should look for the following signs that may indicate these:

  • The appearance of a white pupil can indicate an eye cancer.
  • Excessive tearing may indicate blocked tear ducts.
  • If your toddler is extremely sensitive to light, there may be undue pressure in the eye.
  • If your child's eye lids are red or encrusted, it could be a sign of an eye infection.
  • If the eye turns constantly, eye muscle control may be the problem.

Please see your optometrist or pediatric ophthalmologist immediately should any of these symptoms manifest.

The Parents' Role in Visual Development

Parents are an invaluable asset in assisting with the development of their baby's vision. Here are some age-appropriate activities that can help your baby acquire good vision ability:

Birth to four months

  • Alternate right and left sides with each feeding.
  • Never leave your baby's room totally dark: always leave it dimly lit.
  • Talk to your baby while moving about the room.
  • Frequently change the position of the crib.
  • Hang toys that your baby can see and touch about eight to twelve inches away.

Five to eight months

  • Play games that move your baby's hands through the motions, while saying words aloud.
  • Hang a mobile toy arrangement across the crib for your baby to grab, pull and kick.
  • Give your baby plastic or wooden blocks to play with.
  • Allow your baby a lot of time to play around on the floor.

Nine to twelve months

  • Encourage your baby to crawl.
  • Play hide and see with toys and your face to help your baby develop visual memory.
  • Always name objects to encourage your baby's word association and vocabulary skills.

Twelve to twenty-four months

  • Always read or tell stories to develop your toddler's imagination.
  • Roll a ball back and forth to stimulate your child's ability to visually track objects.
  • Lots of building blocks and objects of various shapes and sizes will develop your toddler's fine motor skills and small muscle development.

Regardless of the condition of your child's eyes and vision, make sure that he or she is examined at the age of six months. It is important to identify problems that may not be immediately apparent and to begin early treatment. This will prove invaluable for your child's future academic skills and psychological well-being.

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