Written By: Angela Aguilar, COVT
Perhaps you found my title a little dramatic – but I am hoping it caught your attention!
It all starts with an adorable baby I recently met; her name is Emma. I confess, I love babies. I actually do not know many people that don’t go a little crazy when they come across one. I think there is something special about their adorable small hands and feet, and innocence that very few can resist.
Just a week ago, I was at a doctor’s office, waiting in a lobby, when this beautiful, very tall lady with long dark hair and what seemed to be a huge purse (but was just a trendy baby diaper bag) sat next to me and placed her car seat carrier to her right. It was diagonally to my left, but angled in a way where I could peek to the side and see her baby’s face without being invasive of her personal space. The carrier had this fuchsia florid pattern and a baby pink blanket covered this adorable little human’s body.
There was an awkward silence for what felt like a whole minute from the second she sat down to the moment I gathered the courage to say hello and ask how old the little one was. The mother said with a very soft voice: “Almost 24-weeks old; right baby girl?” – She leaned towards her and slightly poked her body with her index finger – “She will be 24-weeks old this coming Sunday” she recapped with a louder voice now. I did the quick math in my head and established she was 6-months old. “She is adorable. That velvet headband of hers makes her look very chic.” I said.
As I stared at those beautiful big brown eyes, waiting for them to make eye-contact with mine, I could not stop but wonder…What do things or people look like to her? Does she think it is weird that this stranger just leaned towards her, started talking in this bizarre high-pitched voice, and is now making faces at her?
My brain concluded she probably thought I was a weirdo. But, after getting that smile I had worked so hard for, I leaned back on my seat and asked myself “can she even see my facial features?”
I am embarrassed to share this, because as a vision therapist I feel like I should’ve had an answer to this question, but with all honesty, I was not sure what degree of visual clarity she had. I immediately took my phone out and – naturally – googled it. I wanted to know exactly how clear her vision was and whether she could really tell I was sticking my tongue out or whether my attempts were in vain and her precious smile was just a coincidence!
“… baby’s vision at 6 months” I typed. Google showed me this:
“So, she can totally see me!” was my first thought after seeing the picture.
My immediate next thought was: “I am actually not really sure she can… Mom might not know if she can see her either…”
“Have you heard of a program called InfantSEE?” I asked mom with no proper introduction to my query. I immediately realized how random my question was and proceeded to explain that I was a vision therapist and was wondering if she had taken her baby to get her eyes checked or was planning to. She said she had not heard of the program, but was planning on taking her when she was a “little older, of course – maybe when she starts Kindergarten”. I couldn’t help myself, so I went ahead and gave her a five-minute unrequested explanation of what the program consists of and why it is so important to get her baby’s beautiful eyes checked now… and not when she is a “little older”!
Since you, the reader, were not as fortunate as her to be there, I have a little summary from their website below:
InfantSEE is a public health program that was created with the goal of ensuring that eye and vision care becomes an essential part of infant wellness care with the goal of improving a children’s quality of life.
“Even if no eye or vision problems are apparent, the American Optometric Association recommends scheduling your baby’s first eye assessment at 6 months.”
The best part, wait for it… It is completely FREE! Under this program, participating optometrists provide a comprehensive infant eye assessment between 6 and 12 months of age as a no-cost public service. (Just FYI: OCVT does not only participate in this program, but Dr. Larson is the Texas Spokeswoman for it!)
So, what can doctors catch that early in the exam room you ask? With the use of specialized tools, they can detect potential eye turns (strabismus), excessive or unequal amounts of nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism, issues with eye movement ability and even eye health problems.
I wanted her to know what an important role vision plays in the development of a child and in the child’s ability to reach their age-expected developmental milestones. Looking back, I am very proud of this moment, as I felt like a true advocate for my field, but most importantly, I felt I was being a baby advocate (Emma’s advocate).
Let’s hope Emma’s vision is perfect when she gets tested! But think about this: if her vision was still at an “8-week stage,” she has no way of verbalizing this… She is just a baby! And the signs might not be evident to mom until she turns one? Or maybe 2 or 3? Who knows!
Now, imagine a baby experiencing blurry or double vision all the time for their entire first year of life… go ahead, think about it for a second.
This baby might be missing out on properly getting to know her new world; developing vital eye-hand coordination skills during that exploration stage as she reaches out in hopes of placing everything and anything in her mouth. Or perhaps she might have never had the ability to clearly see mom and dad’s facial expressions yet!
Most people do not know you can test babies at such a young age (and I get it! I remember being surprised and almost slightly skeptical myself when I found out). Nevertheless, my hope is that after reading this, you will take a second to think of all the babies in your life, or the lives of friends and family, and become their advocate.
Spread the word.
Because every baby out there is our future and deserves to reach their highest potential. And all babies deserve to see and experience the world like everyone else does.
So, let’s get their vision checked as soon as they turn 6 months old! Who’s with me?