When Your Toddler Needs Glasses
This weekend is the 3 year anniversary of my son getting his glasses! I can’t believe it’s been 3 years. I still remember his first appointment with the ophthalmologist like it was yesterday. Today, his glasses are barely a thought in our daily life, but when we were told that our 1 year old would be prescribed glasses by his second birthday, it consumed me…for months.
I decided to write this post to share our experience of having a toddler with glasses, and to let other parents know what to expect if they find themselves in a similar situation. I also wanted to answer some of the questions that are often wondered when you see a baby or a little guy with glasses. I know that people have these questions because when you have a very outgoing, glasses-wearing, two year old who talks to EVERYBODY, you answer A LOT of stranger’s questions about glasses.
When Gage was born, he had clogged tear ducts in both of his eyes. That meant that his eyes were constantly getting gunked up, with what I will call “eye boogies,” and they often had to be cleaned with a washcloth, especially after he woke up. The doctor told us that the ducts would probably open up on their own, but if they didn’t by his first birthday, she would send us to an ophthalmologist to have a procedure done. By his first birthday, one of his eyes seemed completely clear, the other was still “gunky,” so we made an appointment with the ophthalmologist.
I remember before the appointment, my husband saying that he was nervous. I didn’t understand why. We knew he had a clogged tear duct, we knew that there was a simple outpatient procedure to clear it that would involve him being sedated, but other than the sedation, I wasn’t concerned. I took him to his first appointment on my own, expecting just to have a quick exam and to schedule his procedure.
Since this was his first appointment, his doctor wanted to give him a full eye exam. She dilated his eyes with drops and after about a half hour, she was able to finish the evaluation. Good children’s doctors are truly amazing. Gage had just the best time. He got to sit in my lap for the whole exam, and was able to check out all of her tools and instruments. She had little toys that moved and blinked and all different ways of observing his eyes without him even feeling like he was at a doctor’s appointment. After a few fun exercises, the doctor began to hold different lenses up to his eyes and used a retinoscope to shine a light through them. She did this quite a few times and sometimes she would set a lens aside and check another one. At first I didn’t think anything of it, but as she continued to change out the lenses, I started to feel like maybe she wasn’t just concerned about a clogged tear duct.
The Doctor: It looks like Gage is extremely farsighted in both eyes.
Me: Really?…….. What does that mean, that he has a hard time seeing things up close, or far away?
The Doctor: It actually means that his eyes have to struggle quite a bit to focus in general. Have you noticed any issues with his eyes crossing at all? – we hadn’t. Sometimes when your eyes really struggle to focus they can cross. Has anyone in either of your families worn glasses from a very young age? Because it is usually genetic.
Me: No, neither side.
The Doctor: We will schedule the procedure to have the tear duct cleared. I want you to make a follow up appointment for about 9-12 months from now and we’ll examine his eyes again. It’s not often that a person’s vision will change in that time, but we will examine him again and if there are no changes, we’ll prescribe him glasses…
Wait. What? I was totally thrown for a loop by this diagnosis. My husband and I are both in our thirties and neither of us have ever worn glasses! My son picks the lima beans out of his mixed vegetables. This kid can see. I called my husband. I cried. Here I was sitting in the parking lot of AI Children’s hospital, where our appointment was, in tears. A hospital where sick kids are, quite literally, fighting for their lives. A hospital full of kids confined to wheel chairs who will never in their lives walk and play like my son, and I am crying because my son needed glasses. I felt like an ass. I knew in the grand scheme of things how minor of a diagnosis this was, but it was still hard. I didn’t want my baby to have to wear glasses. What if he hated them. What if we fought every day because they were uncomfortable for his tiny little face. They go on his face! They are going to cover is adorable tiny little face! No matter how ridiculous and shallow it felt, it was still hard.
I was very grateful for those months in between. It gave me time to wrap my mind around the idea and become more accepting of the fact that he was going to have to wear glasses. My husband and I both knew that the diagnosis was not going to change by that next appointment. I was thankful that Gage would be almost two when he had to start wearing them, rather than having just turned one. The doctor assured me that we were also lucky to have found it so early. A lot of times kids don’t realize that they need glasses until they are struggling in school. Their teacher may think that they don’t pay attention or that they are L-A-Z-Y, when really they are just struggling to focus.
His appointment in November was pretty much the same as his previous. She held up the lenses and observed his eyes with the retinoscope. This would allow her to see the shape of his eye, how they move, and how the light reflects. This is one of the ways they are able to determine a prescription even if a child is very young. Since Gage was now almost two and more verbal, she also introduced him to the picture eye chart. As expected, we left that day with a prescription for glasses.
I was terrified to go to the glasses store. What if he hated them? What if I hated them? What if they make him wear the strap around his head? He is still so little!!! We tried on a bunch of pairs. Luckily, for the most part, he thought it was fun. We brought “special treats” (animal crackers) and bribed him a long the way. We didn’t want him to be afraid or freaked out by the process. Because his prescription is so high, we knew that the lenses would be pretty thick, so the optometrist helped us pick out a frame that would help minimize that (rounder corners help?). We went with wire frames because they would be the most durable of the styles we were looking at. They could pretty much be bent in any direction without breaking, sold! The wire frames also allowed us to get “cable temples,” which meant that the arm of the frames would wrap around the back of his ear to hold them in place, without needing the cable to go all the way around his head. We ordered him his first pair of glasses.
That night after Gage went to bed, sitting in front of the TV with my husband, I lost it. Uncontrollable sobbing. This was it. Once these glasses came in, this would be it. He would have to wear glasses whenever he was awake. The doctor told us to treat the glasses like you would a seatbelt in a car, they are not an option, he has to wear them. From here on out he would be a kid that wears glasses. His birthday and Christmas were a month away. The glasses were going to be there…in every picture we take. I lost it. I tried to play it off like I was more concerned for him and that I didn’t want him to have to spend the rest of his life dealing with this, and that was absolutely true, but I knew deep down it was me. I was having a hard time.
The day that his glasses came in, we went to pick them up when my husband got off work. The optometrist fit them to his tiny face and they looked… adorable. We went next door and celebrated with ice cream. When we got home and walked in the living room, Gage bent down and pet the gray speckled berber carpet. I realized that he had never seen the speckles before. I cried. I was thankful. I was happy.
Gage did absolutely great with his glasses, better than I could have ever expected. He wore them 98% of the time. We put them on him first thing in the morning and took them off at nap and bedtime (although there were more times than I’d like to admit that I would go in to get him out of his crib and realize that he still had his glasses on. The guilt!). Every once in a while he would ask to “take a break,” and they were always the first thing to get ripped off and thrown during a temper tantrum, but other than that, he didn’t even question having to wear them. I fully believe that even at two years old, he was smart enough to know that the glasses were there to help him. About once a month we would have to stop in to the glasses store and have them adjusted, but those wire rimmed glasses survived two years! They were scratched up and were pretty much outgrown, but they were in one piece!
Last year after his 4th birthday, we upgraded to some big kid glasses. Gage picked out a plastic rimmed Lightening McQueen pair by Disney from Lens Crafters. These have a long arm and temple what can still be bent around the ear a bit without needing a cable temple attached. He’s so grown up! He keeps them perched on a rubber duck on his headboard when he goes to bed and doesn’t even make it out of his room in the morning before turning back to grab his glasses.
I am now truly so grateful that they caught the issue with his vision as early as they did. It would have broken my heart to think that he couldn’t see well for years and that we didn’t know. Through this process I have learned that kids really are so resilient. He has never once viewed wearing glasses as a problem, they just became part of his life and he adapted, much MUCH quicker than his mother did. Last year he started pre-school. There were TWO other kids in his class with glasses! My heart melted.
This article has some good information on what warning signs to look for if you are concerned about your child’s vision. If you do question anything about their vision or your child’s eyes, of course, talk to your pediatrician. I also found littlefoureyes.com to be a great support system and resource in the beginning. If you have any questions or want to share your own little one’s story, please do so in the comments below!!!