There are many reasons children don’t pay attention as well as parents would hope. They’re often too busy laughing with friends to listen, or too focused on racing across the room to notice an object in their way.
But sometimes, clumsiness, bad behavior and inattention are signs of a bigger problem — pediatric low vision.
Low vision problems are not particularly common in children, but when present can have a negative impact. It is important for parents to be aware of their child’s visual abilities from birth and address vision problems early in life. After all, one of the main ways infants and toddlers learn is through observation.
Children are adaptable, and learning to cope with low vision problems at an early age can aid recovery and proper development. Though children with low vision may never see an improvement in vision, most of these children learn to function well through skillful adaptation.
“Low vision” is a vision impairment that cannot be corrected through traditional treatments, such as glasses or contact lenses, and is classified as 20/70 or below. Low vision differs from blindness in that those affected still have some vision, but experience extremely decreased acuity or peripheral vision.
Pediatric low vision problems include pediatric cataracts, abnormalities of the optic nerve and retina, amblyopia or “lazy eye,” and nystagmus — an inherited shaking of the eyes that makes it difficult to focus. Low vision problems can be inherited or developed.
Most pediatric low vision problems are not correctable, but some can be relieved through treatment or may improve over time. Pediatric cataracts can be corrected through surgery. Amblyopia is treatable before age 10. Nystagmus can naturally improve over time. Abnormalities of the optic nerve and retina are often incurable.
There are many signs and symptoms of pediatric low vision. In infancy, parents might notice that their child doesn’t follow objects well or recognize faces. Toddlers with low vision are often abnormally clumsy or won’t pay attention. Developmental delays are common.
If a child’s symptoms are not obvious to a parent, a pediatrician will likely catch vision problems during a check-up. Children in Kentucky are required to have an eye exam before entering kindergarten, but earlier screening might be necessary if there is a family history of vision problems.
Once a child is diagnosed with low vision, ophthalmologists will conduct tests to find and treat the specific problem. Glasses may be helpful. Low vision aids such as binoculars, magnifiers and closed-circuit TVs can also be used. Large print books can help in school.
Early intervention for preschool-aged children is key in helping children adapt to visual impairment at a young age. In Kentucky, Visually Impaired Preschool Services offers early intervention and education programs for children younger than 5 years old.
If your child is displaying symptoms of a low vision problem, visit your pediatrician or eye care professional for an evaluation.
By Dr. Palak Wall is a pediatric ophthalmologist with KentuckyOne Health Pediatric Ophthalmology Care