By age 6, children with visible eye disorders begin to experience discrimination by their peers, according to new research showing that youngsters with misaligned eyes are invited to fewer birthday parties than children with normally centered eyes.
As a result, the researchers suggest that corrective surgery be performed no later than age 6, when the negative social consequences might arise, according to the study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology and reported in the Chicago Tribune.
The eye condition known as strabismus — which includes a squint, crossed or wandering eyes — has been shown to cause social problems for adults. Studies show adults with misaligned eyes tend to have psychological problems, trouble finding a job and difficulty with relationships. In addition, the condition can cause double vision in an older child or a loss of vision in a younger child.
To find out when children start to discriminate based on looks, Swiss researchers digitally altered photographs of six children from six identical twin pairs to create misaligned eyes.
They then asked 118 Swiss children between the ages of 3 and 12 which of the identical twins they would invite to a birthday party.
Children under age 6 didn’t distinguish between the twins with a squint and those with normally aligned eyes, likely because younger children cannot see the whole face at once — they view it in pieces — and may not realize the two eyes are not aligned, the researchers said.
But children age 6 and older were significantly less likely to invite the child with the misaligned eyes, the researchers found.
“Our results fit very well with studies showing holistic face recognition begins around age 6,” said lead study author Stefania Margherita Mojon-Azzi of Switzerland’s University of St. Gallen. It’s possible, she added, that children in other countries might behave differently.
Strabismus can be caused by an imbalance in the pull of muscles that control the position of the eyes or by poor vision in one eye.