Points to bear in mind when selecting spectacles for children

Spectacles for children in whom the visual function is still developing or who have not yet reached the age where the visual function has stabilized do not simply serve the role of helping the eyes bring objects that appear to be blurred into focus, but also play a major part in the development of the visual functions of the wearer.

The term "visual function" refers to the ability to see, and can be thought of as comprising of various other sub-functions.

"Eyesight" and "binocular function" are two elements of particular importance relating to children's spectacles.

Children's eyes and eyesight

Eyesight is a representative measure of "the extent of a person's ability to visually distinguish between small objects." Although we often hear that eyesight refers to the extent of a person's ability see with the naked eye without wearing spectacles or contact lenses, eyesight that has been focally corrected (refractive correction) by the use of spectacles or contact lenses is also an important yardstick for the development of the visual function. The task of "seeing" does not end with the projection of a clear image onto the retina. A function is also required that will transmit images of the outside world from the retina, an organ at the back of the eye, to the brain where they can be read. This function is still in the process of development in newly-born babies and stimulus provided by images of the outside world projected onto the retina helps it develop further. Therefore, in persons with conditions such as farsightedness, astigmatism or nearsightedness characterized by pronounced so-called refractive abnormalities, this function has not properly developed due to failure to clearly project images of the outside world.

Children's eyes and the binocular function

The binocular function is a mechanism that transmits images from the retinas of both eyes to the brain where they are coalesced into one to give a more accurate picture of the outside world. This function is almost non-existent in newly-born babies and is developed by stimulus provided by pictures of the outside world projected onto the retinas of both eyes. This function also has a significant bearing on refractive abnormalities and, if such refractive abnormalities are left unchecked as a child develops into an adult, the result may be the development of conditions such as strabismus, or so-called "lazy eye," caused by one of the eyes becoming misaligned, leading to problems with the binocular function.

Selecting spectacles for children

As we can see from the above, children's spectacles play a major role in promoting the healthy development of the binocular function. For this reason, there are a number of important points to be kept in mind regarding children's spectacles. Firstly, since spectacles for children fulfill the role of promoting the healthy development of the binocular function, determination of whether a pair of spectacles is good or bad must not be based solely on whether they enable the wearer to see clearly. In addition, because a child may not immediately find a pair of spectacles to be comfortable, it is important to foster an understanding of why spectacles are necessary and, in cases where the child him/herself is incapable of such understanding, the child's parents or guardians must have a clear understanding and ensure that the child in question wears the spectacles as instructed.
Moreover, when selecting the frames, the choice must take into account the fact that the wearer is likely to engage in rough play typical of children and that the spectacles may not be handled with due care. In addition, it should be remembered that, while recently, some adults also wear small spectacles that, at first glimpse, look like children's spectacles, the distance between the eyes of children differs from the distance between the eyes of an adult. Not only that, but it is not uncommon to see children with wide heads compared to the short distance between their eyes. It should also be remembered that differences in the height of the ears or in width at the right and left sides of the head are more common in children than in adults.

Some children may resist the idea of wearing uncomfortable spectacles that, nevertheless, need to worn to ensure the healthy development of the binocular function. Although design is an important factor in giving children a sense of fun in wearing spectacles, it is also advisable to choose a store where spectacle technicians will be on hand equipped with the technology and know-how to help you choose frames that will suit the child and fit the unique characteristics of his/her head. In cases of young children particularly resistant to the idea of wearing spectacles, efforts should be made to find out the cause of such objections and remedy the situation. Because, no matter how much parents may caution their child, in general, cases of frames becoming bent or warped are more common with children than with adults, it is probably advisable to purchase your child's spectacles at a store nearby where you can take bent frames to be repaired whenever necessary and check factors such as the facial fit of the spectacles.

It is worth noting that, at the present time, health insurance can be used for spectacles for treatment of amblyopia, or weak sight, and strabismus, or lazy eye, for children under the age of 9 years old. To use health insurance, you will need to consult with a physician regarding eligibility of spectacles for treatment for health insurance and complete the necessary paperwork yourself. Ask the insurance association to which you are subscribed for more information.

Editorial supervision: Shinichiro Kikata, Educational Department Director and Vice-chairman, Japan Glasses Technician Association