Vision therapy is a series of treatment procedures prescribed by optometrists to improve certain types of vision problems that cannot be corrected with glasses or contact lenses alone. Vision therapy is much akin to physical therapy for the eyes: you relearn or enhance the use of various muscles and body parts that are not functioning correctly and/or are causing discomfort. The overall goal is to alleviate symptoms of vision problems and to maximize visual and overall performance in order to improve quality of life.
Vision therapy treats vision problems like tracking, eye teaming, focusing and eye-hand coordination. Problems in these areas (especially when using their eyes up close) would make it difficult for children to read, learn, and remain on task. Vision therapy also corrects lazy and squint eyes, and is used either in combination with / without surgery.
Vision therapy is generally prescribed by an optometrist who has a special interest in children’s vision. To specialize in vision therapy, optometrists would normally complete extensive post-graduate training beyond their optometric degree.
Before a child can begin a vision therapy program, the optometrist must see the child for a complete developmental vision evaluation and diagnostic workup. After the optometrist has interpreted the results of the exam, any areas of concern are then discussed with the parents and a recommendation for therapy based upon the test results is made.
A good vision therapy program uses learning theory to arrange conditions that optimise the opportunity to learn new skills and work within a framework of developmental hierarchies. It is important for a patient to self-discover throughout the exercises prescribed, in order to derive meaning and form a foundation that they can use in visual situations. The program consists of an individualized plan of treatment procedures using lenses, prisms, instrumentation, visual exercises, and occlusion to return the patient to normal vision.
Vision therapy is not a quick fix, but a lifetime correction. No matter how old you are when you begin treatment, remember it took a lifetime to get there. Just like physical and occupational therapy, vision therapy can be hard work. Commitment and consistency to a vision therapy program is vital to the overall success. A trained therapist or the optometrist would work with the patient once or twice a week for a period from three to twelve months, depending upon the nature and severity of the patient’s condition and how often the patient is seen in the office. Certain dysfunctions like strabismus (squint), traumatic brain injury, and significant developmental delays or severe perceptual problems, can take the longest to treat. Usually home therapy is also prescribed to reinforce the new skills the patient is learning at the optometrist’s office. Eye patching is often a part of the treatment program.
The optometrist would periodically assess the patient as he or she proceeds through therapy in order to measure the level of progress and meet each set of treatment goals. The goals of vision therapy would depend upon the patient’s vision problem.
WHO CAN BENEFIT FROM VISION THERAPY?
Patients of ALL ages can benefit from vision therapy. Many children who are diagnosed with learning disabilities, reading, spelling or writing problems, ADD/ADHD, and developmentally delayed have a 70-80% chance of having a vision problem significant enough to affect their performance.
Patients with eye teaming, tracking, focusing, visual motor integration, and visual perception problems have weak visual skills, which undermine the learning process and can cause such problems as double vision, headaches, eyestrain, and sort attention spans. For these patients therapy improves their visual skills so they can function normally in the classroom.
Patients with squint, turned, wandering, or lazy eyes only see with one eye at a time. Their brain suppresses or “turns off” their weak eye. Therapy is designed to straighten the eye and teach the patient to use both eyes together for normal visual function.
Even professional athletes use vision therapy to speed their visual reaction times and improve eye-hand coordination.
Adults that have suffered strokes or that have been in car accidents and suffered head trauma can also benefit from vision therapy.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF VISUAL PROBLEMS?
Patients often attribute their symptoms to other problems, such as learning disabilities or attention deficit disorders, when the real source of the functional decline is an undiagnosed vision problem. The encouraging news for parents is that vision therapy is very effective in treating vision-based learning problems. Unfortunately, children who struggle because of visual problems often suffer needlessly because their condition goes undiagnosed. Current research shows that about 20% of school-aged children have undetected vision problems. School screenings generally only check children’s distance vision and usually don’t run the specialized tests required to determine if a child has all the visual skills he needs to succeed in school.