Children and adults know a lot about what appears before their eyes. They can determine how far an object is, they can can identify the object with language, and they understand how that object relates to the things around it. They can also understand how that object relates to themselves. Understanding what information comes through the eyes (visual processing) is not something we are born with. Babies learn to see over time. The ability to use the eyes to gather information from the world must be learned.
Steps in Infant Vision Development
The eyes aren’t fully developed at birth. The muscles to control the eyes and the parts of the brain which process what we see are also not fully developed at birth. The structure and function of the visual system develops rapidly in the first 2 years of life. Below are some important visual milestones and some tips on how to guide visual development in babies.
Birth to four months
From birth to 3 months, babies do not look and focus on things farther than 8-10 inches away (or the distance to their parent’s face). The world they pay attention to is in a small space which expands outward as they get older.
- At birth, babies may look at targets with high contrast but there will be little meaning in what they see.
- During the first months of life, the eyes begin to work as a team and become lined up with each other. Babies will start to reach out and touch what they see and look at what they touch (beginning eye-hand coordination). By eight weeks, babies begin to focus their eyes on the faces of a parent or other person near them.
- At about 3 months of age, you should see your baby look at an object (maybe a face, toy, etc.) and begin to reach out for it.
- By about 4 months of age, you should see that the eyes should be aligned and move in sync most of the time.
Five to eight months
- Depth perception (the ability to judge how far an object is) will not begin until the eyes begin to work together at around 4-6 months. When the eyes begin to work as a team, the baby can then form a three dimensional perception of the world around them.
- By about 5 months, it is generally thought that babies can distinguish high contrasted colors.
- Most babies begin to creep and crawl around 8 months. Parents should encourage crawling rather than early walking to help the child develop better eye-hand coordination.
Nine to twelve months
- At around 9 months of age, babies start to stand up. By 10 months of age, you should see your baby not only reach for objects, but grasp them with the thumb and forefinger.
- By twelve months of age, most babies will begin to walk.
- Judgement of distances improves and babies will now begin to throw things more accurately
One to two years old
- By two years of age, a child’s depth perception should be well developed.
- Children at this age should be looking, listening, touching, walking and exploring a lot. They may start to recognize familiar faces, pictures in books and can scribble with crayon or pencil.