As moms, we get to witness an amazing journey as a child progresses from a sleepy nursing infant to a busy chatty toddler and beyond. This is an intense learning period where the groundwork laid by both the sensory and motor systems sets the stage for a child’s future cognitive development. Vision plays an important role during this critical period. Many people are unaware that visual skills are not automatic and instead acquired, learned, and shaped by experiences throughout childhood and life.
Vision gives meaning to movement which plays a large role in gross motor development. It is often through vision that a child becomes motivated to explore and interact with his surrounding environment. Following the development of fixating and tracking skills while in a stationary position, a child begins to stretch his hand to reach towards a toy of interest. If the toy is beyond his grasp, he may try to roll, scoot, or crawl towards it. When he successfully attains the object, his knowledge of what he sees is reinforced by his sense of touch, texture, and taste.
As he continues to grow, his vision will serve as a strong feedback for other sensory motor tasks such as hand-eye and bodily coordination. These skills are present in everyday activities kids engage in, from self-feeding, grabbing toys, and washing hands to more complex skills such as writing, playing a musical instrument, and playing a sport.
Socially, vision serves as the lens through which a child acquires language skills and learns appropriate facial expression and body language. From a young age, a child becomes in tune with the sounds he hears. As he grows, he begins to make sense of his world through exploration and attaching language to those experiences. A child learns language by imitating the sound resulting from the movement of the facial muscles he sees during speech. It is also primarily through visual observation that a child observes facial expressions, such as smiling, and body language.
Vision serves as a dominant sense in its role of reinforcing other foundational skills necessary for more complex perceptual, cognitive, and social development.
However, seeing clearly is only one of many visual skills needed for efficient information processing. Peripheral vision, eye tracking, eye focusing, and hand-eye coordination are examples of other visual skills. When vision works efficiently, it allows a child to develop to his highest level. Vision can either support or hinder a child’s learning experience so it is critical to intervene early when appropriate since many vision problems are treatable.
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About the Author: Dr. Jamie Ho is an optometrist located in Brentwood, Tennessee. She specializes in vision-related learning difficulties and neuro-rehabilitative optometry. In her free time, she cooks and enjoys food with her busy and hungry toddler – Selene.