Good Beginnings 6: Eye/Brain Connections During First 5 Years Are Critical to Development of Vision

First 5 LA’s “Good Beginnings” continues with a segment on the critical early developmental years of vision.

During the first few years of life, the visual system develops rapidly, with complicated connections between the eye and the brain being created from early infancy. Researchers and doctors say that if problems with that brain/eye development aren’t corrected by age 6, the eye may never develop properly, resulting in lifelong visual impairment.

That’s why Brandi Gonzales of Los Angeles brought her 9-month old son, Ethan, to pediatric ophthalmologist Dr. Walter Fierson. In his Arcadia office, Dr. Fierson sees dozens of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers like Ethan every day.

“I noticed my baby’s eyes look crossed,” said Gonzales. “I went to our pediatrician, and he said I should bring him in for a full eye exam right away.”

By following the advice of their children’s doctors, parents can get help early for common conditions, such as amblyopia or lazy eye, which can corrected with prescription eye drops or patches. Experts warn that untreated vision problems can often lead to poor reading skills and low academic performance.

Even if the eyes look normal, parents are encouraged to ask their pediatricians for eye exams starting when their infants are one or two months old, and during each well-child visit throughout childhood to catch both minor and more serious conditions, such as eye tumors or cataracts.

“One in five school-aged children suffers from some sort of visual impairment, and we believe that one-third of serious vision problems are never diagnosed or treated,” said Dr. Fierson. “We can accurately evaluate how well a newborn is seeing, so the earlier we identify the problem, the more likely it is that we will be able to ensure that our children will be able to avoid lifelong vision problems.”

Dr. Elise Brisco, an optometrist in mid-Wilshire who specializes in children’s vision care, offers the following tips for parents:

Five Signs of Early Childhood Vision Problems:

1. One eye drifts or aims in a different direction than the other

2. Turns or tilts head to see

3. Frequently squints, blinks or closes one eye

4. Poor hand-eye coordination

5. Frequently bumps into or drops things

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