The visual system is our most complex sensory system, but functionally the least mature at birth. Together, the sensory systems form an integrated hierarchy and are influenced by the nature of the early environment. The ability to attend to, process, and remember relevant visual information is fundamental to a range of abilities such as negotiating a physical space, learning to read, or appreciating art. Vision is also socially channeled. Even from early infancy, vision serves a dual role in social communication and language, both from the standpoint of speaker and listener. Eye contact is an important cue to a speaker that the topic is of interest and the listener is attending. Facial expression, gesture, and body language serve as visual correlates of speech. Attachment and bonding are mediated by eye contact and disrupted in both the visually impaired infant and the parents. Given the powerful role of vision in normal development, visual deficits and approaches to visual stimulation have broad implications for the young child. The purpose of this paper is to summarize the early development of the visual system within the context of the other sensory systems and preterm birth and relate this information to a direction for early intervention.
Child Development Program, Children's National Medical Center, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, The George Washington University, School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Washington, DC