Last year, near the end of third grade, my daughter began complaining that she was having difficulty seeing the board in her classroom. After taking her for an eye exam over summer vacation, we discovered that, as expected, vision correction was needed. This year, she started fourth grade with a fantastic pair of purple glasses — and great excitement over her new look.

But as a parent, the whole experience left me feeling a bit uncertain. Why didn't I realize that she needed glasses sooner?

The Case for Better Vision Screenings

According to Dr. Andrea Thau, spokesperson for the American Optometric Association and Associate Clinical Professor with SUNY Optometry, most children do not undergo an annual comprehensive eye examination.

"Oftentimes," says Dr. Thau, "parents rely on school screenings which are cursory tests that can miss problems that can only be diagnosed and treated as part of a comprehensive eye examination with your doctor of optometry."

Like so many other parents, I had assumed that those school vision tests (not to mention the ones at the pediatrician's office) were enough to detect any potential problems. Apparently, in many cases, they're not.

Free Eye Exams for Infants

It turns out that early eye and vision examinations with a qualified professional are more important for our children's health and well-being than many of us have been led to believe. And according to the American Optometric Association (AOA), the first year of life is actually the best time to conduct an extensive eye assessment.

In fact, early examinations are so important that the AOA provides no-cost, comprehensive eye and vision assessments to infants between 6 and 12 months of age, all through its year-round public health program, InfantSEE.

Launched in 2005, the InfantSEE program is free to families, regardless of their ability to pay or access to insurance coverage. During an assessment, an optometrist can determine if a baby's vision is developing correctly and identify if intervention is needed. Infants typically sit on their parent's lap, while the optometrist performs simple tests to examine visual acuity, prescription status, eye movement, eye alignment, and eye health.

"Vision doesn't just happen," says Dr. Thau. "A child's brain learns how to use eyes to see, just like it learns how to use legs to walk or a mouth to form words. The longer a vision problem goes diagnosed, the more a child's brain learns how to accommodate the vision problem."

Poor vision can affect learning and behavior, and impact your child's overall quality of life, so it's never too late to schedule an appointment with an optometrist. And if you have an infant in the house, there's no reason not to take advantage of the free InfantSEE exam while you still can.

Trust me, you'll be glad you did.

To find a certified InfantSEE Optometrist in your area, visit the InfantSEE website and enter your zip code.