Eye examinations in children involve many age-appropriate tests which are designed to be fun while providing the optometrist with valuable information. Take it from us, most kids only cry when they have to leave the office! Infants are assessed with a series of "objective" tests with no verbal responses required, unlike the "subjective" tests used on adults. When the use of eye drops is required, we provide an unpreserved formula for children that minimizes stinging.
A vision screening is a very superficial pass/fail assessment of basic visual skills that may be offered at pre-school institutions. Screenings are generally performed by lay volunteers, and are definitely not a substitute for an eye examination. In fact, screenings often lead to confusion among parents and teachers, who believe that the child has had an exam when they really haven't. Remember, OHIP insures annual eye exams for everyone until their 20th birthday: get your kid to the eye doc regularly.
The Ontario Association of Optometrists recommends that children have their first eye exam at 6 months of age and again at age 3. Although it's rare, kids can have cataracts, glaucoma, and 'lazy eyes', and earlier diagnosis allows more effective treatment.
Until about 8 years of age, a child's visual system development is incomplete, and normal development depends on good (and equal) visual acuity and proper eye alignment. Poor vision or eye alignment (strabismus) can result in a permanent reduction in vision. With as much as 80% of learning occuring through vision, it's critical that kids see well in order to do well in school.
As a rule, no. Although some children with visual problems may squint or complain of headaches, more often than not, a child with a visual problem doesn't seem to have any difficulties at all. Kids lack the experience to know any better, and may not even realize that they are having trouble.