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Your Child's First Eye Exam and Test

Updated on June 4, 2012

Are you wondering if your child needs a full exam with an eye doctor? Most parents rely on brief vision screenings at school or at the pediatrician’s office to determine if their child could have a vision issue. Unfortunately, these brief evaluations are not always sufficient. They primarily test a child’s distant vision, to be sure that they can see the board in class or a ball on a field. This leaves many children who have difficultly seeing up close, like my daughter, undiagnosed.

Recently my 6-year-old said the oddest thing to me. She asked me why I had four eyes and two heads. Then she laughed, but she was serious. She was seeing double.

I was alarmed, of course, and immediately made an appointment with our eye doctor. She had been given the “all clear” in several screenings over the past three or four years. And that left me entirely misled. I wasn’t aware that it was recommended that children have a full eye exam at age three. Our pediatrician never recommended it and our school district didn't require it for entrance into Kindergarten.

My daughter began to read very early and is academically at the top of her class, yet she was struggling in school. She couldn’t concentrate on her assignments; she was jumping around in her seat and constantly looking up from her work. These are signs of ADHD, right? They are also symptoms of a vision problem.

A complete eye exam is recommended for children starting at age 3.
A complete eye exam is recommended for children starting at age 3.

Even if your child is not having obvious problems with their vision, an exam by a qualified professional is beneficial. The American Optometric Association recommends children receive an eye exam at age three and then again before entering first grade. Follow up with comprehensive exams every two years.  

It may not seem necessary if you have never had a vision problem yourself, but left untreated, children with vision issues struggle in various ways at school and can develop headaches or be misdiagnosed with a learning disability.

Not sure if you need to take your child for a full eye exam? Consider a few points from the American Optometric Association:

  • Typical vision screenings are a limited, non-diagnostic process. Unfortunately, this is not always communicated clearly to the general public. It creates the illusion that a child who passes a screen has no vision issues.
  • Recent studies show that 11.5 percent of teenagers have undetected and / or untreated vision problems.
  • A mere 14 percent of children in the US have had comprehensive eye examination by age 6, according Current Ophthalmology .

Children's Eye Care and Developement

Preparing for Your Child's First Eye Exam

First, make an appointment with a pediatric optometrist, if there is one in your area. They will be more sensitive to any fear, anxiety or behavior issues that may come up during your visit and they will be better equipped to make your child's eye exam a positive experience.

Prepare your child for the exam by explaining what will happen when they get to the eye doctor. Assure them that it will not hurt a bit and that you will stay with them the entire time. Allow your child to ask any questions and talk about any aspects of the exam that may be of concern to them. Look at photos and videos online (there are a few included here) so your child knows exactly what to expect.

Explain that the doctor will probably talk with you for awhile to get a medical history, then check your child's near and distance vision and their eye alignment. Let them know that there is no passing or failing and that they are going to see the eye doctor to keep their eyes healthy. Keep it positive and if necessary, offer a small reward or a lunch at their favorite restaurant when it's over.


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    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 6 years ago from Connecticut

      It can be really scary, especially for a young child!Someone should have told you that your first eye exam wouldn't include anything painful (like a poke in the eye)!

    • maticmagister profile image

      maticmagister 6 years ago from Slovenia

      Ooooh i was really really scared when i had my first eye exam! i thought he was going to poke me in my eyes or take them out!:))

    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 7 years ago from Connecticut

      Thanks Princessa - it's true, we have to monitor their health carefully. And it isn't always easy to figure out what a young child is experiencing. My daughter seemed to think it was funny that she was seeing double - until she would get a terrible head ache from the eye strain.

      I'm glad to hear that you were able to determine the problem your daughter was having and that it was able to be treated.

    • Princessa profile image

      Wendy Iturrizaga 7 years ago from France

      We had a similar problem with my daughter when she was about 3 (we were starting to think she might be autistic) after a few exams we discovered that all she had was glued ear -easily fixed with minor surgery-.

      It is very important to monitor our children's health. Sometimes easily solved problems can go undetected and become serious. It is not always easy because young children cannot explain their problem.

    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 7 years ago from Connecticut

      I know my daughter feels much better now that she has her glasses! Reading no longer causes double vision - which caused her to constantly look up and away from the page and wiggle around in her seat. Kids try to compensate as best they can, but sometimes the solution is really this simple!

    • rpalulis profile image

      rpalulis 7 years ago from NY

      It would be awful to be put on ADHD meds if all you really needed were a pair of glass's. I have never had any problems with my eyes but can only imagine a little kid not know any better thinking that everything is normal until they actually get there sight corrected or assisted with eye glass's. They must feel so much better.