Children's Vision

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There is a clear link between a child’s ability to see well and his or her ability to learn and succeed in school.  Children learn mostly with their eyes.  Reading, writing, blackboard work, computers, playtime and sports are all hard work if you cannot see clearly.  Many everyday tasks for children involve seeing quickly and using visual information.  Parents need to understand the basics of children’s eye health so they can detect problems early and address them before they become serious.

Good vision includes seeing well at a distance and also for close work.  Good vision depends on good eye health and good eye function.  Good eye function involves visual integration and visual skills such as using the eyes together, focusing the eyes properly and changing focus appropriately, and moving the eyes when needed.

Visual acuity: The ability to see clearly at close, middle and far distances. This includes activities at various distances such as reading a book, working on a computer or seeing the blackboard.

Eye health: A healthy eye is one free of diseases, such as strabismus, and amblyopia (lazy eye)which can impair vision or lead to vision loss if not diagnosed and treated early.

Visual skills: All the functions the eyes must be able to perform to process visual information.

Visual skills include:

  • Eye focusing - The ability of the eyes to focus and shift focus to near and distant points easily
  • Eye coordination - The ability of the eyes to work properly together.
  • Eye movement or tracking - The ability to move the eyes together across a page of print, to look directly at an object, to follow a moving object or to jump smoothly from one object to another.
  • Visual integration: The ability to process and integrate visual information, which includes and coordinates input from our other senses and previous experiences so that we can understand what we see.

Caring for your child’s vision

If a child is having difficulty at school  parents, caregivers or teachers should take steps to find out if a previously undetected visual problem is the underlying cause.  A full an thorough eye examination by your local optometrist is the most effective way of assessing eye health and visual function.

The NZ Association of Optometrists recommends that children have their eyes examined:

  • At 6 to 12 months old.
  • At 2 to 3 years of age.
  • Before starting school.
  • Through their school years as indicated by vision screening or school performance.


What to look out for:

Parents can look out for the following signs that their child may have a vision problem. . .

  • Dislike and avoidance of close work
  • Sitting at table with an awkward posture
  • Turning or tilting the head to one side
  • Closing one eye while reading
  • Taking an unusually long time to complete reading comprehension tasks
  • Moving closer to a book, desk or computer screen while reading
  • Excessive blinking or rubbing of eyes
  • Losing place while reading; skipping or re-reading lines or words
  • Using a finger as a place mark when reading; reading unusually slowly
  • Complaints of headache, dizziness and nausea
  • Needing to sit close to the TV or board at school to see clearly
  • Lack of confidence in group sports and activities

If you have any concerns about your child’s vision see your optometrist.




Also known as “lazy eye,” it is reduced vision in an otherwise healthy eye that has not received adequate use during early childhood. Most often, it results from eyes turning in or out , or from a difference in the clearness of the images between the two eyes (one eye focusing better than the other).  If not detected and treated before age 6, vision may be permanently impaired.


Blurred vision due to an irregular shape of the cornea, the transparent surface at the front of the eye. Children with astigmatism sometimes see vertical lines more clearly than horizontal ones, and vice versa.


Children with colour “blindness” are not actually blind to colour but simply have difficulty identifying and distinguishing between certain colours. Colour deficiencies affect one in 12 boys, but only one in 200 girls.  Normal colour vision is required for some careers including the military or police.


Eyes need to work together to see clearly. Each eye sees a slightly different image and the brain fuses the two images into one three-dimensional picture. Eye coordination problems may be due to inadequate vision development or improperly developed eye muscles. Poor eye coordination can make it hard to read for extended periods of time and may lead to avoidance of near work, trouble with reading comprehension tasks, and physical clumsiness.


Often called long sightedness, it happens when the eyeball is too short for the normal focusing power of the eye. With children, the lens in the eye can often accommodate for this error and provide clear vision at near but only with considerable effort, which can cause tiredness and sore eyes.


With myopia or near sightedness, images of distant objects appear out of focus. The eyeball is too long for the normal focusing power of the eye.


Strabismus is the term used when eyes do not look in the same direction at the same time. Most commonly one eye turns in towards the nose but turning out, up or down may occur instead.  The eye turn may be present continuously or only drift when tired or stressed. Untreated, this condition can lead to amblyopia so it is important to take action as early as possible.


This is the general term for when the eyes cannot function appropriately for the required task. The problem may involve focusing, eye movement and/or eye coordination.  These skills are all important for jumping word to word and line to line in reading.


A battery of tests that measures the ability to perform specific focussing, eye movement, and eye coordination functions required in daily life.