Better Vision, Better Health

From the time we wake up and until we go to sleep, we constantly use our sight. It helps us with day-to-day social and spatial interactions, and it’s a big part of a child’s development, which includes their learning and play skills. 

In support of Vision Health Month, we sat down with Lindsay Hillier, Manager of our Blind-Low Vision Early Intervention Program, to learn more about vision health, how to protect it, and why it’s important for children with autism and other developmental disorders. 

Thanks for chatting with us, Lindsay! Let’s take it back to the beginning. Can you explain how vision develops?  

Lindsay: Sure! Happy to explain. Vision development begins in the womb and continues throughout childhood and adolescence. The visual system is the most complex sensory system in the human body, but it’s actually the least mature system at birth! A child’s vision is a complex combination of the brain, the eyes and the vast array of nerves that connect them. A child’s experiences and environment have a big impact on the development of vision. This is because young children learn through their eyes. They watch and imitate what they visually observe in their lives. These experiences are important for vision to develop fully. 

Even after your vision is fully developed, why is it important to stay on top of vision health throughout your life? What are some ways to protect it? 

Lindsay: Not many people know that 75% of vision loss can be prevented or treated with proper care. There are lots of things you can do to protect your eye health. Here are some tips: 

  • Get yearly eye exams. Just as we go to the family doctor to monitor our general health and the dentist to check on our oral health, regular visits to an optometrist or an ophthalmologist are how we maintain good vision health! The Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) covers free yearly eye exams for children under 19. Many adults have insurance that covers annual eye exams. 
  • Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes and keep sun damage to a minimum. Look for sunglasses that block out 99% to 100% of UV-A and UV-B radiation (the sun’s rays), which, believe it or not, you should even wear on cloudy days if possible. Frequent exposure to UV rays has been linked to numerous eye conditions such as cataracts, macular degeneration, and more. 
  • Wear safety glasses and protective goggles when you play sports or work with hazardous materials. Safety glasses lower your risk for eye injury, vision damage and complete loss of sight. 
  • Keep your eye prescription up-to-date.This will ensure you can see as clearly as possible. A comprehensive eye exam can also detect potentially life-threatening conditions, like brain tumours, high blood pressure and diabetes. 
At what age are children eligible to have their eyes examined? 

Lindsay: A child of any age is eligible to have an eye exam. Children can have an eye exam as soon as 6 months of age and should have 3 eye exams before they begin school. If you have any concerns about your child’s vision, see an eye care professional regardless of your child’s age. 

Why is it important that vision care be a part of assessing children with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disorders?  

Lindsay: Vision problems occur at higher rates in children with autism spectrum disorder than in the general population. Recent research shows that about 40% of children with autism have some type of identifiable vision problem. Some of the most common – but usually treatable – issues are refractive error (the child needs glasses), strabismus (their eyes are not properly aligned), and amblyopia (one eye is weaker than the other). 

Depending on their age, a child may not have the language or ability to explain how they see or attribute how they feel to a vision problem. In fact, observable behaviour believed to be related to autism may be a sign of an undiagnosed vision problem, which is why eye exams are important! Having visual issues addressed can make a big difference for children with autism to participate in their daily life activities. 

We have a great team of early childhood vision consultants here at Surrey Place. Can you share how our Blind-Low Vision Early Intervention Program helps children?  

Lindsay: Our program helps young children with visual impairment by supporting their parents and caregivers. Having access to learning is so important for children. We work with families to ensure that the environment, materials, toys, and interactions allow children to have rich learning opportunities. Some children without sight will learn to use their tactile and auditory skills to access learning, while other children with low vision and neurological visual impairments will learn to use their remaining vision and other senses. Our team also provides vision and sensory assessments to help the families and the professionals understand what will be most helpful for the children. 

Thanks for answering our questions today! Any final thoughts? 

Lindsay: No problem! If there’s one major takeaway from Vision Health Month, it’s that vision health is for everyone, no matter what your age! If you have any concerns about your eye health, don’t hesitate to visit your optometrist or ophthalmologist for a check-up. Or, if you’d like support for your child’s visual impairment, connect with us here at Surrey Place.    

Visit our directory to learn more about our Blind-Low Vision Early Intervention Program. 

By 2 months

Has your baby had their hearing screened? YES NO

By 6 months

Does the child?

Startle in response to loud noises? YES NO
Turn to where a sound is coming from? YES NO
Make different cries for different needs (hungry, tired)? YES NO
Watch your face as you talk? YES NO
Smile/laugh in response to your smiles and laughs? YES NO
Imitate coughs or other sounds such as ah, eh, buh YES NO

By 9 months

Does the child?

Respond to their name? YES NO
Respond to the telephone ringing or a knock at the door? YES NO
Understand being told no? YES NO
Get what they want through using gestures (reaching to be picked up)? YES NO
Play social games with you (Peek-a-Boo)? YES NO
Enjoy being around people? YES NO
Babble and repeat sounds such as babababa or duhduhduh? YES NO

By 12 months

Does the child?

Follow simple one-step directions (sit down)? YES NO
Look across the room to a toy when adult points at it? YES NO
Consistently use three to five words? YES NO
Use gestures to communicate (waves hi/bye, shakes head for no)? YES NO
Get your attention using sounds, gestures and pointing while looking at your eyes? YES NO
Bring you toys to show you? YES NO
Perform for social attention and praise? YES NO
Combine lots of sounds together as though talking (abada baduh abee)? YES NO
Show an interest in simple picture books? YES NO

By 18 months

Does the child?

Understand the meaning of in and out, off and on? YES NO
Point to more than 2 body parts when asked? YES NO
Use at least 20 words consistently? YES NO
Respond with words or gestures to simple questions (Where's teddy? What's that?)? YES NO
Demonstrate some pretend play with toys (gives teddy bear a drink, pretends a bowl is a hat)? YES NO
Make at least four different consonant sounds (p ,b, m, n, d, g, w, h)? YES NO
Enjoy being read to and sharing simple books with you? YES NO
Point to pictures using one finger? YES NO

By 2 years

Does the child?

Follow two-step directions (Go find your teddy bear and show it to Grandma.)? YES NO
Use 100 to 150 words? YES NO
Use at least two pronouns (you, me, mine)? YES NO
Consistently combine two to four words in short phrases (Daddy hat. Truck go down.)? YES NO
Enjoy being around other children? YES NO
Begin to offer toys to other children and imitate other children's actions and words? YES NO
Use words that are understood by others 50 to 60 per cent of the time? YES NO
Form words or sounds easily and without effort? YES NO
Hold books the right way up and turn the pages? YES NO
Read to stuffed animals or toys? YES NO
Scribble with crayons? YES NO

By 30 months

Does the child?

Understand the concepts of size (big/little) and quantity (a little/a lot, more)? YES NO
Use some adult grammar (two cookies, bird flying, I jumped)? YES NO
Use over 350 words? YES NO
Use action words such as run, spill, fall? YES NO
Participate in some turn-taking activities with peers, using both words and toys? YES NO
Demonstrate concern when another child is hurt or sad? YES NO
Combine several actions in play (puts blocks in the train and drives the train, drops the blocks off.)? YES NO
Put sounds at the beginning of most words? YES NO
Use words with two or more syllables or beats (ba-na-na, com-pu-ter, a-pple)? YES NO
Recognize familiar logos and signs involving print (Stop sign)? YES NO
Remember and understand familiar stories? YES NO

By 3 years

Does the child?

Understand who, what, where and why questions? YES NO
Create long sentences using five to eight words? YES NO
Talk about past events (trip to grandparents house, day at child care)? YES NO
Tell simple stories? YES NO
Show affection for favourite playmates? YES NO
Engage in multi-step pretend play (pretending to cook a meal, repair a car)? YES NO
Talk in a way that most people outside of the family understand what she/he is saying most of the time? YES NO
Have an understanding of the function of print (menus, lists, signs)? YES NO
Show interest in, and awareness of, rhyming words? YES NO
Read to stuffed animals or toys? YES NO
Scribble with crayons? YES NO

By 4 years

Does the child?

Follow directions involving three or more steps (First get some paper, then draw a picture and give it to Mommy)? YES NO
Use adult type grammar? YES NO
Tell stories with a beginning, middle and end? YES NO
Talk to try and solve problems with adults and with other children? YES NO
Show increasingly complex imaginary play? YES NO
Talk in a way that is understood by strangers almost all the time? YES NO
Generate simple rhymes (cat-bat)? YES NO
Match some letters with their sounds (letter b says buh, letter t says tuh)? YES NO