One in four children has a visual problem significant enough to affect their performance in school. The visual system is complex, and good vision is much more than seeing 20/20. Many visual skills contribute to the ability to see clearly without fatigue. For efficient, comfortable vision, the eyes need to be coordinated well together. They need enough focusing power to stay on task, and need to focus accurately and quickly when changing where they are looking. They need to be able to make very small, coordinated eye movements for reading, and larger, smoother eye movements to follow a moving object. Then, multiple areas of the brain need to process visual information in a meaningful and efficient way.
If any visual skills are deficient, school work and other visual tasks, including sports will be much more difficult. Vision therapy, an individualized training program prescribed by an optometrist, can train deficient visual skills to improve performance, increase enjoyment and confidence at school and playing sports. The training program varies depending on the condition(s) being treated, whether it is a focusing problem, tracking difficulty, “lazy eye,” eye coordination issue, or visual perceptual deficit. A variety of equipment is used for vision therapy including optical devices such as lenses to stimulate the focusing system, prisms to work on eye coordination and proper use of the eyes together as a team. Filters, 3-D anaglyphs, a variety of letter charts, worksheets, and specialized computer programs are also used. Many other tools and activities are used for improving visual information processing skills. A vision therapy program generally consists of weekly office visits and prescribed daily home exercises. Length of treatment depends on the condition. To an outsider, vision therapy may look like “all fun and games.” Activities are designed to be fun and motivating for children and engaging for adults while developing important visual skills.
Eye centers, such as Family Eye Care in Chico, now offer evaluations and vision therapy. Families are already seeing the benefits for their children. “Vision therapy, hands down, has given my son a new sense of visual confidence,” says Nancy R. “He’s more willing to tackle his school work. He has more of an ‘I can do it attitude.’ Before vision therapy, my son didn’t like playing ball with other kids, especially when it came to catching a football. Now he can catch the football, and comes home to share about his catching accomplishments.” Nancy would recommend vision therapy to other parents whose children could benefit. “I can only imagine a continued positive progress for him,” she says. “Vision therapy for my son is an eye opener for me to his unique visual differences that have hindered him before. Now we work together, daily, doing interesting visual exercises and activities that he recognizes are benefiting him.”
Kelley J. feels the same way. Her daughter began therapy for her “lazy eye” when visual improvement from patching had slowed and continued patching at home became a daily struggle. Besides improving visual acuity in her daughter’s lazy eye, vision therapy is improving her focusing ability, eye movement accuracy, and the ability of both eyes to work well together. “My daughter wasn’t a fan of reading books with a lot of words on a page before vision therapy, but now she is willing to read chapter books,” Kelley says. “I wish more people were aware of the treatment.” Kelley says. Her family knows all too well the importance of early intervention. Kelley’s husband’s eye problem was never corrected. Kelley voices her frustration that most insurance plans do not pay for vision therapy. She is willing to pay for the important benefits for her daughter, but says, “We need to make more people aware of the benefits.”
While the majority of vision therapy patients are children, adults with some of the same conditions can also benefit. Additionally, those who have had a concussion, head injury, or stroke can benefit. Head injuries can have numerous and profound effects on the visual system. The United States Military is recognizing the necessity of vision therapy in their trauma centers and for continued treatment of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). Vision therapy has helped combat Veterans suffering from TBI by eliminating blurry and double vision, restoring depth perception, and eliminating eyestrain. This improved visual ability and visual comfort has enabled Veterans to return to school to pursue their educational and career goals.
Anna Griffith, an Optometrist at Family Eye Care is residency-trained in vision therapy, rehabilitation and pediatrics. She evaluates children and adults, and develops an individualized training program for each patient based on the evaluation and the goals of the patient and parents. She alters the therapy each week based on the individual case and progress of the patient.
Who might need Vision Therapy?
1. Children or adults with any of the following symptoms:
Intermittent blurry or double vision
Headaches and/or eyestrain after near work
Avoidance of near work
Blinks excessively while doing near work
Covers or closes one eye
Fatigue and short attention span
Lose place while reading or copying from board
Rereads or skips lines
Poor reading comprehension
Inability to stay on task
Moves head rather than eyes while reading
Uses finger to keep place while reading
Homework takes longer than it should
Trouble with ball sports
2. Children who are struggling in school.
Learning is extremely visual, especially reading, spelling and math. If visual information processing skills are deficient, the child may under-perform in these and other subjects.
3. Those who have had a head injury and are experiencing visual symptoms.
4. Those who can’t see 3-D movies or get nauseous while watching one.