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Preschool mobility and motor skills closely aligned with good vision, study shows

Abnormal motor skills in toddlers such as grasping may be associated with poorer vision when they reach preschool age, a new study involved South Australian researchers has revealed.

International experts in vision and neonatal development have found that the presence of astigmatism and abnormal motor function at two years of age may be associated with poorer vision at four-and-a-half years of age.

Researchers from Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Canada claim in a new article in Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics that abnormal motor abilities such as inaccurate tracing, grasping and catching are warning signs.

Senior author Flinders University Professor Nicola Anstice said vision issues go undetected in an estimated one in four children.

“Children who show poorer motor skills at an early age may benefit from comprehensive eye examinations to make sure these children get the best start to life, particularly with regard to reading and learning once they start school,” she said.

“Existing clinical tests for two-year-old children’s vision are not predictive of visual outcomes at 4.5 years, so we recommend the development of more sensitive tests for this.”

Author Dr Nabin Paudel, from the Centre for Eye Research Ireland, and University of Auckland, said mild to moderate vision loss affects many children and can negatively impact a child’s early literacy and academic achievement.

“Nevertheless, there is no consensus on which factors present in early childhood indicate the need for long-term ophthalmic follow-up, particularly in children with a history of perinatal adversity,” he said.

Using a longitudinal study of vision and neurodevelopmental milestones of a cohort of 516 children at risk of perinatal adversity, the researchers observed a direct correlation between poor motor scores at two years of age with reduced depth perception (stereopsis) at four-and-a-half-years old.

The study identified the relationship between visual, cognitive, motor and demographic factors at two years of age and visual acuity and stereoacuity at four-and-a-half years of age – paving the way for development of a new approach in ophthalmic practice in the future, the paper concluded.

They study can be accessed here.

A team led by Professor Anstice is now investigating vision screening for South Australian school children aged 7-9 years for prevalence of vision disorders and to establish the best tests to use for identifying primary school children with vision disorders.

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