Vision Milestones: Warning Signs if Your Child isn’t Meeting their Visual Milestones for Reading
This article provides helpful information for your child’s vision milestones. Affiliate links are included for your convenience.
One of the greatest moments in a parent’s life is when their newborn baby opens their eyes and makes eye contact. This is such a sweet connection between an infant and a caregiver. However, don’t be surprised if that eye contact doesn’t happen immediately after birth. The visual system in a baby takes some time to develop. In the first week of life, babies don’t see much detail. Much of the world appears as shades of black and white or gray.
Understanding the milestones of your child’s vision development and how you can help them progress can ensure your child’s vision develops properly. A visual system that is functional allows your child to live and fully enjoy the world that surrounds them. In addition, it creates a better learning environment for your child as they become more challenged in school.
Prenatal Vision Development
You child’s vision development starts before birth. At day 22 of gestation, the eye formation begins. The eye development of your child’s visual organs continues through week 36. At this time, your child’s visual alertness is achieved. Proper nutrition during pregnancy aids in healthy development of a baby’s eyes.
Visual Development at Birth
A newborn baby knows nothing of depth, distance or speed in relation to visual cues. The infant can only see at a distance of approximately 7 inches. This is about the distance from a mother’s breast to her face. Detailed features of an object or person have little meaning to the baby, unless they experience it through the other senses. The taste of the mother’s milk and the sound of her voice all serve as familiarities to the infant, but within the first few days, these connections help the baby to recognize her visually. The infant’s rooting reflex is another example of how one sense, combined with movement, trains another system. This reflex occurs when the infant’s mouth is brushed, the head will turn and the baby searches for the breast. In a few weeks, the sight of the breast or bottle will elicit sucking movements.
Also at birth, your baby only sees in black and white. Nerve cells in the retina and brain are not fully developed yet.
1 Month Visual Milestones
At about one month after birth, the baby starts to see the colors red, yellow and green. It takes a little longer for the infant to start seeing blues and violets. Sometimes the baby’s eyes seem like they are not working together, but do not be alarmed. Occasional eye movements drift from proper alignment, which is normal. Also during this time, the baby starts using vision as it integrates with other senses. The focus of the eyes also improves.
2-3 Months Vision Milestones
The eyes and the neck are the first body parts that an infant learns to control. As the baby scans the room, the brain is working to process and integrate all the sensations from his eyes and neck muscles. The baby starts training his body to keep the head and eyes stable, which is an important skill used for reading. The eyes must keep the image stable and the muscles in the neck need to hold the head still (used for posture in school) to avoid images becoming blurry. This building block is vital for future learning objectives such as reading, writing and taking notes from the chalkboard. Overall body movement and balance begin here as well.
4-6 Months Vision Milestones
During this time period, visual acuity improves a great deal. The baby’s ability to see sharper, clearer images is improving. Color vision should be similar to what adult vision is at this point. The big milestone of this age is your child’s eye-hand coordination. They begin to quickly locate and pick up objects and accurately direct many objects to their mouths. Your child typically enjoys movement at this age as well. The baby loves to be rocked, swung up in the air and moved around. This is because the movement stimulates the senses, including vision and provides experiences that help the brain develop and integrate sensory information.
6 Months to 1 Year Vision Milestones
Depth perception, which is the ability to judge if objects are closer or farther away than other objects, begins to emerge. When crawling, pulling up and walking occurs during this time period, these milestones push the development of the eye-hand-foot coordination.
1-2 Years Vision Milestones
The toddler enjoys touching pictures while looking at books. When a parent reads a book to the child, they begin to turn pages and focus on the images. The child can focus on an image for longer periods of time, while understanding differences in color and size of the image or object. The toddler loves to visually guide many activities with both hands. Watching the toy, picking it up and placing it somewhere else, or throwing a ball in a general direction is common.
3-4 Years Vision Milestones
Eye-hand coordination is greatly improved. The child can stack things in order (for example, rings or blocks) and can organize these objects according to color and size. The young child processes things visually with much more thought as they imitate other children in play and movement. During your child’s fourth year, they begin to recognize their own name visually in print. They also understand the difference between left and right and can start draw names and pictures.
Vision Milestones Overview
If, at any point, you discover your child’s visual milestones are not in coordinance with where they need to be or what your pediatrician assesses, they may need visual exercises to improve visual perception for future academic development. Here is an overview that provides you with key development milestones for your child’s vision:
- Prenatal: Visual alertness occurs at 36 weeks gestation.
- Birth: Can see approximately 7 inches in distance. Utilizes rooting reflex. Only sees in black and white.
- 1 Month: Sees colors, beginning with red, orange and green. Blue and purple follow. Focus improves.
- 2-3 Months: Baby starts scanning the room and starts training eyes and neck muscles to remain stable.
- 4-6 Months: Eye-hand coordination is a big development milestone at this age. Child starts to pick up objects and move to mouth.
- 6 Months – 1 Year: Integrating all the new body movements such as sitting, crawling, pulling up and walking with the visual sense. Improved eye-hand-body coordination.
- 1-2 Years: Enjoys touching pictures in books and shows understanding of color and size.
- 3-4 Years: Stacks and organizes objects according to visual differences. Watches and imitates other children during play. Can visually recognize own name in print.
- 4-6 Years: Visually ready to begin learning to read and recognize alphabet and other symbols. Eye tracking improves greatly and coordination with hands and body has substantial growth. Throwing a ball forward and watching it becomes an acute skill.
Vision Development Problems
If you notice your baby struggling with their vision milestones or vision development, you may need to talk with a pediatrician or vision therapist. Here are some signs you may notice if your child’s vision development is delayed:
- The baby can’t see an object up close
- The baby doesn’t seem to notice you or an object across the room
- The baby tilts their head at a funny angle to look at an object
- The baby has a lazy eye or the eyes seem to roll
- Can’t hold focus on people or objects
- One or both eyelids appear to droop
- Excessive tearing, blinking or sensitivity to light
- Pupil is white or has white spots
- Rubs the eyes frequently
- Eyes wander, moves erratically, jumps or looks crossed
- Frequent swelling or discharge around the eyes
- One of your baby’s eyes doesn’t open
- Can’t move the eyes from side to side
In the book Attention, Balance and Coordination, Sally Goddard describes the following about your child’s vision milestones, “Nothing that is seen is understood by the sense of vision alone. In other words, what we experience through vision as adults is actually the product of years of multisensory experience – a compound sense – which has developed as result of sight combined with moving, touching, and proprioceptive feedback from the muscles, tendons and joints of the body in response to movement of the body through space.”
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