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Eyesight problems in children

4-minute read

If you think your baby or child might have a problem with their eyesight, get a check-up as soon as possible. By knowing the signs of vision loss and acting early, you can get the help and support your child needs so they can reach their full potential.

Signs to look out for

It's not always obvious when a child's vision is impaired, as their eyes might look normal. You might notice something different about your child's behaviour or how they use their eyes.

Some things to watch out for in your baby include:

  • the eyes moving quickly from side to side, or jerking randomly
  • the eyes not following your face or another object
  • your child not making eye contact with you or others
  • the eyes not reacting to bright light
  • the pupils appearing white or cloudy
  • eyes looking towards the nose or turning outwards

In the case of toddlers and preschoolers, get their eyes checked if they:

  • regularly hold things up close to their face
  • rub their eyes a lot
  • see better during the day
  • say their eyes are tired
  • get tired from looking at objects up close
  • appear to have eyes looking in different directions
  • fall or trip over a lot
  • sit very close to watch the TV

When is a child considered blind?

There are different levels of blindness, which affect people to varying degrees.

A child is considered legally blind when:

  • they can’t see the same object at 6m that a child with normal vision can see at 60m
  • their field of vision is less than 20 degrees in diameter

The term "legally blind" is used by governments to define someone whose vision impairment entitles them to special benefits.

Your child is considered to have low vision when there is permanent vision loss that affects their daily life and can’t be corrected with glasses.

Causes of blindness

Blindness and vision impairment can be caused by many things, including:

  • genetic conditions, like albinism
  • injury to the eye
  • damage to the pathways connecting the eye to the brain
  • nerve conditions that affect the areas of the brain that control vision
  • conditions like cataracts
  • infections during pregnancy, from viruses like rubella or sexually transmitted infections

How vision impairment can affect your child’s development

Severe vision loss or impairment can slow other areas of development and learning, such as physical skills (crawling and walking), or language and social skills (talking and playing).

How vision impairment is diagnosed

If you think there’s something wrong with your child’s eyesight, it’s important to get it checked.

See your doctor or paediatrician, who can refer you to a children’s eye specialist (paediatric ophthalmologist) for an examination.

Functional vision assessments

If your child’s vision is impaired, it’s a good idea to get a functional vision assessment. This helps you find out and understand more about what your child can see, and can provide ideas and strategies to make daily life easier. You’ll also find out how much your child’s vision impairment is affecting other areas of their development.

After the functional assessment, you can start planning for child care, kindergarten or school and organise the learning aids your child will need, such as large print reading material, Braille or magnifiers.

Treatment and management of blindness

Early intervention services

If your child is diagnosed as blind, they will be eligible to use early intervention services. This will help your child's skills develop, and provide emotional support for your family.

You will see various health professionals such as orthoptists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists.

Services for children with severe vision impairment or blindness

Vision Australia, Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children and Guide Dogs Australia provide help with daily life, treatment, information and emotional support.

You can get financial support through the NDIS.

You can also call Pregnancy Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 to speak to a maternal child health nurse.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2020

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