Your Children Aren’t Lazy. They Just Have a Lazy Eye.

Ask yourselves this. Has your young child’s teacher been constantly informing you that your child seems disinterested and aloof during classes? Has he or she showed signs of disinterest as well at home while doing homework and even during playtime with friends? Just as you were about to find out more about your child’s weird behavioural patterns, he or she drops a bomb onto you by bringing home a report card filled with poor grades and frustrated teacher comments! Surely by now you could think that your child is just being plain lazy (and even some of you may go ballistic).

Now, before you reach for the disciplinary cane, take a moment to ask yourself, “Is my child really lazy? Or is there another reason behind it?”. Unless your child has a mild cognitive disability, they should not be acting this way. Most of the time, regular young children are so often active and inquisitive that it seems very far-fetched to call them lazy. So, what is making your child seem lazy and disinterested when it comes to the fun activities? The answer may be all too simple: that instead of being genuinely lazy, your child just happens to be having a lazy eye. OK then, please do not press the panic button yet.

Amblyopia, often termed as ‘lazy eye’, is a condition whereby there is a reduction of vision in one or two eyes in the absence of any ocular pathology. Mind you, this reduction in vision is not correctable by eye glasses. It usually happens when one of your child’s eyes (or both) begin to lose more focus in relation to the other eye. As a result, the brain will tend to ignore the image from the poorer eye and ‘disallow’ the poor eye from seeing. Over time, the vision development of the eye becomes impaired, and this impairment is permanent once the child reaches a certain age.

If your child is suffering from amblyopia, it would make total sense for them to seem lazy or disinterested, simply because of the fact that he or she cannot see very well ! Imagine that you do not have good vision, would you still be going through your daily tasks willingly? I personally would not. Now that we know the problem, we must learn how to identify and react to them quickly.

There are many causes for lazy eye and all of them involve something blocking the eye from seeing well. Most commonly, the child may have some uncorrected power in one eye that is disallowing the child from focusing clearly. Other causes could include a squint in one eye as well as something blocking light from entering the eye, namely congenital cataracts. Whatever the cause, correcting the root of the problem is always the first treatment in line. For example, if the child has significant power, we must always correct the power by putting the child on glasses.

I cannot help but keep stressing that early detection is always the key to combating the lazy eye in a child. There is a period in the human’s vision development where the visual system is especially vulnerable to disturbances from unwanted external stimuli such as a cataract or significant eye degree. This period is known as the ‘critical period’. For an average individual, the critical period for proper vision development is from birth to roughly around 8 months of age. However, this does not stop there. Research shows that significant disruption to the development of the visual system can still be done up to around 3 years of age!

Children with lazy eyes will show disinterest in many activities that require good vision – such as studying, paying attention in classes and even during games. Other symptoms would include ‘straining’ the eyes to see, having an unusual ‘face turn’ while viewing or sitting very close to the television. It is vital for us to detect these signs early, send the child for an eye examination and remedy it. If the child seems normal, a preliminary vision examination is always recommended at around 9 months of age as it coincides with the end of the critical period to ensure early detection of any eye problems. It is also advisable to have your child go through another vision screening during the pre-school years before they start kindergarten.

However, this does not mean that all is lost if we detect problems after the age of 3. There is another period which is called a ‘plastic period’ whereby we can still regain the vision lost in children by doing some simple treatments. The plastic period usually ends when the child is around 6 to 9 years old and any treatment applied after that usually does not yield significant results. Hence, treatment to the problem should be done before this period ends. You may also ask ‘what now’ if we detect and start treatment on a child after that age. Fret not as there are reports stating that some children may still benefit from treatment up to their teenage years, even if the results may not be too desirable.
In managing the problem, there are sequences that we must always follow. First of all, we must always correct the root problem first as mentioned earlier. If the child has significant power, he or she needs glasses. If there is a cataract, remove it. If that is not enough, we will need to help the poorer eye see better and this can be done in multiple ways. If we encourage a lazy person hard enough to work, chances are that he would. The basis of lazy eye treatment is the same…encourage the lazy eye to work!

Patching is the most common method to work the lazy eye. By covering the good eye, we encourage the poorer eye to work. The frequency and duration of doing so depends on the severity of the problem as well as the child’s age. While some children find this method cool (as it makes them look like ARR! PIRATES), some could be subject to ridicule from their peers. If that happens, there are still other methods which we can always fall back on such as applying a special eye drop in the good eye to temporarily blur out the vision or a use spectacle with a foggy lens over the good eye. You may discuss the various types of treatment with your ophthalmologist or optometrist.

In a nutshell, a child may seem lazy or disinterested because he or she has poor vision, a common cause is a lazy eye. Early detection and treatment is of utmost importance to tackle the problem. Once the problem is sorted out, we can then help the child to develop lifelong visual skills. So if your child seems to be lazy, always have this possibility in mind: He is not LAZY, he just has a LAZY EYE. Happy patching!