Better Eyes, Better Brains

Baby’s ability to see will greatly determine the strength and function of her brain. This is especially crucial during her first three years of life when brain development is at its most rapid.

Baby is born with almost all the neurons (or brain cells) she will ever have. It is during her developmental years when these neurons begin to make connections with each other through synapses, forming complex pathways to her brain. The more stimulation your baby receives through her senses, the more neuron connections are made, and the stronger her foundation will be for her brain development.

Scientists have learned that visual experience – what baby sees and interprets – provides one of the most essential triggers for these neuron connections to form properly. This is because there are neurons in the brain that selectively respond to visual information from one eye or the other.

The learning link

Baby’s eyesight allows her to see everything that is around her.Whatever she sees is sent to her occipital lobes located at the back of her brain. This is the center of her visual perception system where visual information is interpreted, processed and stored, forming the basis of her learning ability in the future.

The quality of what baby sees greatly affects the quality of the information that is stored in her brain. If the quality of what she absorbs through vision is compromised, that means the data her brain receives and interprets will also be compromised. This is especially crucial when 75 to 90% of what she learns is through sight.

Baby may experience learning difficulties because of her vision problems. Poor vision can affect her ability to pick up skills that require hand and eye coordination such as grasping objects, sorting shapes and playing with toys. As she grows older, poor vision may affect her ability to read and write, play ball games and do close work.

When she is unable to look at things in great detail, she is unable to focus on an object, and will have problems concentrating later on. When she has problems viewing objects within a distance, her ability to move about freely and explore her environment is severely limited. Her inability to interpret the information that passes through her vision will also stunt her comprehension and language development.

As a result, she may be wrongly labeled as being “slow” or dyslexic and this can produce devastating effects on her development and self-esteem. The good news is, most common vision problems, if detected early, can be treated.

Common eyesight problems

Among the more common visual function problems is the significant simple refractive error where the image of an object does not focus correctly on the retina. Common refractive errors are such as myopia (shortsightedness), hyperopia (long-sightedness) and astigmatism. These problems can be corrected with spectacles.

Another common defect is the childhood squint or primary strabismus where one of the eyeballs is misaligned and the two eyes look at different directions at the same time. Because each eye receives a different image, the visual input from one eye is interpreted and processed in the brain while the one from the other is suppressed. The brain is then unable to assemble and develop a clear, three-dimensional image.

When baby has the squint, his visual input is suppressed and this causes poor or underdeveloped vision in a seemingly healthy eye. This can lead to unilateral amblyopia (lazy eye). In fact, any obstacle to visual stimulation during the critical period of visual development from birth to 8 years of age can cause unilateral or bilateral lazy eye. Some causes include the presence of high refractive errors or a severely drooping upper eyelid.

Protecting baby’s eyesight

For good eyesight development, quality visual stimulation from birth is essential. Encourage baby to crawl as this helps develop eye-hand coordination. Give her toys to hold and look at, or hang a mobile above or outside of her crib.You can also talk to her as you walk around the room so that you encourage her eyes to follow your movements.

As baby grows a little older, provide her with visually stimulating toys that will improve her motor and eyehand coordination skills. Try building blocks, puzzles or drawing tools like pencils, chalk, crayons, and markers. She will also love playing with finger paints and modeling clay.

When it comes to protecting baby’s eyesight, start early. It is highly recommended to breastfeed baby as breastmilk contains high levels of DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that is important for proper brain and eye development in infants.

Make it a habit to provide nutritious, well-balanced meals for baby with foods that contain Vitamin A, C and E as well as beta-carotene and zinc.

It is also extremely important to send baby for regular eye check-ups. Bring her in her first year of life and then continue on a yearly basis. Do not wait as her eyesight will be fully developed by the time she turns eight and she will not “grow out of” any eyesight problems she might have. This is all the more important if eyesight problems run in the family.

Remember that baby’s eyesight is precious.Without good vision, she can suffer significant setbacks in her learning ability and struggle to develop life skills she will need in the future. So, take the necessary steps to ensure a bright beginning for her today.

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