Signs of vision problems in toddlers

Toddlers grow and learn with each new experience they have. Drawing, playing outdoors, building with blocks – all of these activities benefit toddlers in a specific way – they help to build hand-eye coordination.

Between the ages of two and five children, develop the skills they need for school and for life in general. That’s why the earlier you catch any particular hiccups in the process, the better.

Sometimes a child can pass a vision screening test (which may be done by a pediatrician or by a school nurse) and still have vision problems. That’s because a vision screening usually only assessed one or two areas of vision. For example, they may not evaluate how well a child can focus their eyes. The American Optometric Association estimates that vision screenings (which are useful for catching basic vision problems) miss about 60% of vision problems in children. A full vision examination is necessary to diagnose and treat vision problems.

Toddlers almost never complain about vision problems because they have nothing to compare the way they’re seeing to. To them, if the world looks blurry, that might just be the way the world is. Luckily, there are some signs parents and caregivers can be on the lookout for so that vision problems can be caught and corrected, even when they’re “silent.”

  • Squinting
  • Covering one eye with a hand
  • Tilting their head
  • Sitting too close to the tv
  • Holding a book very close to their face
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Short attention span for their age group
  • Frequently rubbing their eyes
  • Avoiding coloring or other detail work or play
  • Trouble with hand-eye coordination (video games, playing catch)
  • A crossed or wandering eye

If you notice any of the above signs in your toddler it’s definitely time to make an appointment for a full vision exam with an optometrist. Most childhood vision problems (including a wandering eye) can be corrected, ensuring that your child will grow up with the visual acuity they need to continue developing the rest of their skills.

Even if no symptoms are present, it’s a good idea for a full vision examination be done around the age of three and a half years and again at five years. The AOA recommends that these two full exams take place (in addition to the screenings done at wellness visits or at preschool) in order to ensure that the child’s vision is developing properly and there is no sign of eye disease.

The toddler years are a period marked by the development of many abilities that a child will need in school and throughout his or her life and vision plays a large part in that development. Taking the time during these years to help make sure eyesight development is on track will have a positive impact on the rest of their life.

  • Dull, K. “Approach to the pediatric patient with vision change.” In: UpToDate, Post TW (Ed), UpToDate, Waltham, MA. Accessed June 2, 2017.
  • Gudgel, D. “Eye Screening For Children.” American Optometric Association. American Optometric Association. Aug. 04, 2014. Accessed June 2 2017.
  • “Preschool Vision 2 to 5 Years of Age.” American Optometric Association. American Optometric Association.  2017.  Accessed June 2, 2017.

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