Why All Children Need an Optometric Exam (at 6 months and 4 years)

The American Optometric Association recommends all children have at least two visits to an optometrist prior to starting preschool: at 6 months old, and again at around age 3 or 4, in addition to any visits to address other concerns or injuries. At six months in age, babies can’t express concerns over their own vision, so it’s important to bring them in to check for proper development, eye tumors, blindness or partial blindness, and other diseases.

At three or four years old, your child’s social and academic life is beginning to take shape, and uncorrected vision can have a major impact on their ability to reach their potential including playing with other kids, participating in sports, and doing well in school. Just as your child learns to walk through the use of their legs, and speak with their tongues, the brain learns to see through the eyes. The longer a condition goes undiagnosed, the greater the impact on their ability to use their eyes in the long term.

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School Eye Exams Aren’t Enough

It’s important for parents to realize that the pediatrician and schools generally are only concerned with basic screenings to check for serious and obvious problems. They will not be looking inside the eye, beyond basic structure. It’s up to parents to bring them in to an optometrist at 6 months and 3-4 years old to check for less-obvious problems.

A Kids’ Trip through the Office

In addition to the standard tests we give to our adult patients, we will be checking for color vision, eye coordination, and proper development. We’ll use two main tests for this:

Ishihara Test

The Ishihara test is commonly known for testing color blindness; you may have seen its design on shirts and online. It consists of 24 images that have a variety of numbers and shapes whose color contrasts with the rest of the diagram. For adults, we can ask them to read numbers, but for young children, we will ask them to trace the shapes. We use them to test for a variety of types of color blindness, including red-green, blue-yellow, and total colorblindness.

Stereo Vision Test (Stereopsis)

This tests how your two eyes work together to give three-dimensional vision. It’s given to kids who can speak basic sentences (“the bunny is jumping out”), and uses special red-and-green glasses to give the illusion of three-dimentionality to a book. They are asked to identify which images (dots, animals, etc.) have a 3D effect.