Your child’s eyes are special. In the early years, vision helps them find out about the world around them, about their home, about you. Later, as they go through school, their eyesight lets them learn and discover — in fact, about 80% of what is taught in schools is presented visually. Being able to see clearly is therefore incredibly important in your child’s overall development. So it’s not surprising that we take your child’s eyesight seriously. Every bit as seriously as you do.
Your child’s first eye test
Most very young children have their eyesight assessed as part of routine developmental checks. While these are very important, they aren’t as thorough as a complete eye test by a qualified optician. So we recommend that your child has their eyes tested from an early age.
Testing before your child goes into full-time education means that any problems that they may have are identified early, setting them up for a happy and fulfilling school life.
Poor eyesight can cause learning and behavioural problems, which might be blamed on other things. This is especially true for young children, who may find it difficult to explain the difficulties they are having with their eyesight, or may not even be aware they have a problem. The sooner that vision problems are detected, the better the outcome. Conditions such as squint and amblyopia (lazy eye) can be treated more effectively if they are picked up earlier, which could make a huge difference to your child.
At what age should children first visit the optician?
There are tests that can be used on infants and preschool children who cannot read or recognise letters. If you have any concerns about your child’s eyesight, you should find a local optician who will test their vision. However, if you have no concerns, it’s perhaps better to wait until your child is a little older — around three-and-a-half years — before taking them for a full eye examination.
Even if your child’s vision seems good, it’s worth taking them for a full eye test at a qualified optician when they reach school age, just to make sure that there aren’t any issues with their vision that are likely to affect their early school years.
Are children’s eye tests free?
The NHS will cover the full cost of an eye test for anyone who qualifies. All children under 16, as well as those under 19 in full- time education, are entitled to an NHS funded eye test. Find out more about NHS funded eye tests.
What happens during a children’s eye test?
We know that eye tests can be a little overwhelming for some children — especially if it’s their first time. That’s why we’ve made the process as enjoyable and child friendly as possible.
Children’s eye tests are a little different from those for adults. We use specially designed charts that allow children to recognise shapes or pictures, or even to match letters, rather than the traditional charts that you may be familiar with. This means that we can test children’s eyes even if they are unable to read or recognise letters.
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Signs of eye conditions in children
Children begin to develop vision in their eyes over the course of their first year. Young babies can’t see beyond a few feet and there’s nothing to worry about if they can’t recognise your face from a distance for their first three or four months. By the age of about eight their eyesight should be fully developed.
Watery eyes are common in young babies as the ducts that carry the tears away from the surface of their eyes are not fully open for the first few months. If this problem doesn’t clear up by your child’s first birthday, it’s best to get it checked out with your GP.
More serious eye problems that need advice from your optician or GP include persistent or recurring eye infections, or if you notice your baby’s eyes do not move together perfectly, e.g. when looking at an object straight ahead one eye is pointed slightly outward (squint).
When your child is three or four, if they have difficulty recognising shapes, colours or showing no interest in pictures in storybooks, your opticians should have the necessary tests to conduct a full eye examination. Your child doesn’t have to be able to read or recognise letters to have their sight tested.