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Development of an infant's vision

How do you know what a baby sees?

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Tiffany Owens, early childhood special education teacher and early interventionist, provides services to children ages birth to 3 years old through Rainbows’ Infant/Toddler Services program in Butler County. Tiffany travels throughout Butler County to work with children and families in their homes. Here she answers three of the most common questions she is asked regarding the development of a baby’s vision.

How do you know what a baby sees?

Babies learn to see over a period of time, much like they learn to walk and talk. They are not born with all the visual abilities they need in life.

The ability to focus and move their eyes together must be learned. Babies also need to learn how to use visual information in order to understand the world around them and to interact appropriately.

At birth, babies’ vision is full of visual stimulation. They may look at highly contrasted toys, but they can’t tell the difference between two different toys or move their eyes between the toys. Colors they see are only black, white and gray. Their primary focus is on objects 8 to 10 inches from their face, or the distance to the parent’s face.

Over the next 10 to 12 weeks, babies will begin to follow moving objects and recognize toys and mobiles with bold, geometric patterns. As their color vision begins to develop, babies will see the color red first. A baby should be able to see the full spectrum of colors by the time they reach 5 months of age. Eye-hand coordination starts to develop as infants are tracking moving toys with their eyes and reaching out for them.

Babies’ eyes are not well coordinated and may appear to wander or be crossed. If noticing that an eye appears to turn in or out constantly after 4 months of age, then an evaluation is warranted.

From 5 to 8 months, babies will continue to improve on their eye-hand coordination by holding onto toys and bringing toys to their mouths. They will begin holding toys up to their eyes and examining them, along with watching their own hands move. Depth Perception, which is the ability to judge if objects are nearer or farther away than other objects, emerges around 5 months of age. At that time, a babies’ eyes are capable of working together to form a three dimensional view of the world and begin to see in depth.

At around 9 to 10 months of age, babies are crawling. Parents should encourage crawling instead of early walking to help the child develop better eye-hand coordination. By 12 months, babies can now judge distances fairly well and throw toys with precision. Babies can pick up small bites of food and finger feed themselves. They develop visual memory like playing peek-a-boo. Babies’ eyes are in midline and equal.

By 1 to 2 years old, a child’s eye-hand coordination and depth perception should be well developed. Children this age are highly interested in exploring their environment and in looking and listening. They can visually track objects and people over a large area or space. Toddlers can visualize and point to familiar objects in books and move about their environment with little to no assistance. The child’s visual acuity level is developing and should reach adult levels (20/20) by age 4 or 5 years old.

How do you know if there is a problem with your baby’s eyes?

• Excessive tearing- This may indicate blocked tear ducts
• Red or encrusted eyelids- This may be a sign of an eye infection
• Constant eye turning- This may signal a problem with eye muscle control
• Extreme Sensitivity to light- This may indicate an elevated pressure in the eyes
• Appearance of a white pupil- This may indicate a presence of an eye cancer

What puts your baby at risk for vision problems?

Specific diagnoses
• Prematurity
• Birth injuries
• Family History

If you have questions or concerns regarding your child’s development, please call Rainbows at 316.267.5437. Rainbows can help you sign up for a free developmental screening. We provide Infant/Toddler Services in Butler, Sedgwick and Sumner counties.