How My Eyes were Opened to the Importance of Pediatric Eye Health


Summertime is an ideal time for checkups, with no missing school days and much more flexibility in schedules. And while checkups with the pediatrician and dentist are so important, don’t forget to also get an eye exam!

Pediatric eye health - you may not even know your kid needs glasses!

Recently, I took my infant to the optometrist. She’s my third baby and I had never taken my older two during their infancy. I didn’t even know I should have! My eyes have been opened to the importance of pediatric eye health.

When my eldest child was around 18 months, I had some concerns about his eyes. Our pediatrician didn’t think there was a problem but was happy to refer me to a pediatric ophthalmologist here in Birmingham. That was six years ago.

When my middle child started having some eye crossing issues last year, I called up the first doctor that we went to only to be told he was preparing to move out of the country! This was hard to hear as Birmingham currently has a shortage of pediatric ophthalmologists.

I was afraid my child might need patch therapy, so after doing some digging, I found a pediatric optometrist who has an additional certification for vision therapy. Also, some of the other practices I called had months-long waiting lists! I didn’t want to wait that long for him to be seen. We got in with our doctor within a few weeks.

I was very anxious about that first appointment. I wasn’t sure what to expect, I wasn’t sure how to prepare my young child for the visit, and I was anxious about the results.

Our doctor and staff were fantastic and made the appointment fun for my anxious little guy. They played “games” which were actually vision tests. He got to wear silly glasses with a tiger on them. He got to find Mickey Mouse, look at 3D pictures, and look at silly shapes in a mirror. Remember that letter chart with the big “E” at the top? That’s a thing of the past for little people! Our office has an iPad mounted on the wall above the patient’s chair and it displays in a mirror on the opposite wall. The patient in the chair is actually viewing the iPad through the mirror. They show the children simple black and white shapes and ask them to name them. As they click through the shapes, they get smaller and bigger. This is just one of the tests they do, and my child thought it was really neat! And so did I!

The staff was so encouraging of my child and really put him at ease. He did have to get his eyes dilated, which he did not like at all, but at the end of the appointment (which lasted over an hour) he was happy and said he had “so much fun!” He even talked it up so much to his big brother that Big Brother started begging to go to the eye doctor too!

 Pediatric eye health - doctors recommend early eye exams for children.

We had to go back just three months later per our doctor’s request. This time I was halfway through my pregnancy with my daughter and the doctor encouraged me to bring my school-aged child for a visit and to bring the baby around nine months of age. She said this was an ideal time for a first eye exam as babies are sitting up well, generally happy and cooperative, and they don’t remember the dreaded eye drops. Also, she informed me that a lot of eye issues can be resolved or have minimal impact if caught and treated early.

This past fall we had to go back again (yes, for a third time in a year!) for my middle child, so I decided to schedule my eldest for a visit that day too. Surprise! Surprise! My eldest needed glasses! I couldn’t believe it! I had no idea he needed them. I was so grateful our doctor had encouraged me to bring him in despite the fact that he didn’t seem to be having any problems. During that visit we went ahead and scheduled my middle child’s next visit and our infant’s first visit.

While my son was becoming a pro at these visits and genuinely looked forward to going, I wasn’t sure what to expect for the baby. I knew enough to know our doctor and staff would be great, but they ended up going even above and beyond that expectation. We came into the children’s waiting area, and the assistant came out and asked me questions while I held the baby and my boys colored and watched a movie. While she was asking me questions the doctor came out and performed a few quick tests with some lights. It was so quick and easy, I was able to continue chatting with the assistant and answering questions, and I’m not sure the baby even noticed very much.

Then the assistant showed her a gray paddle. She slowly slid another paddle with thick black and white stripes out from behind the gray one to see if the baby noticed it. She did! Then the next gray paddle’s stripes were a little thinner. And the final paddle’s stripes were thinner, still. It amazed me that they can decipher so much about an infant’s vision from these easy, non-invasive tests.

The baby really got into another game she played with some little finger puppets. Then she took some pictures of her eyes with a machine that showed lights and made nature sounds to get her attention. The machine didn’t even touch my baby. It captured what it needed from a distance. I suppose I had pictured myself wrangling my wiggly seven month old or holding her down while she was poked and prodded. But the only time I had to hold her at all was for the dilation drops. She got to sit and play in her stroller for every other part of the eye exam.

Pediatric eye health - exams for babies are meant to be fun - no wrangling required!

At the end of this visit both of my children got great reports. I chatted with our doctor, who is also a young mom and totally “gets it” all! She was telling me about how important the InfantSee program is. In fact, InfantSee provides your baby’s first eye exam for free! That’s how vital they view these checkups. They don’t want there to be a reason for your baby not to be seen. The program offers a one-time free eye exam for infants 6-12 months in age through the Optometry Cares program by the American Optometric Association. For more information you can read here.

I highly recommend getting your children’s eyes checked, even if you think they’re fine, because you really don’t know. I certainly didn’t! If you need a recommendation for a fantastic doctor, feel free to ask me!