Everything You Need to Know About Vision Therapy
Fact: 80 percent of what we learn comes into the brain through the visual system.
Fact: 1 in 4 school-aged children have an undetected vision problem.
Fact: Vision disorders are the fourth most common disability in the US and are common in children with learning issues.
Fact: Vision Therapy is effective in correcting vision disorders in over 90 percent of cases.
What is Vision Therapy?
Based on the results a comprehensive eye exam, vision therapy is a customized program of visual activities designed to correct certain vision problems and/or improve visual skills. Think physical therapy, but for the eyes and visual system.
In addition to a weekly 60-minute in-office therapy session, vision therapy includes a home exercise program that your child must commit to doing daily. Just like hiring a personal trainer, if you only workout once a week and don't do anything outside the paid session, you're not going to see results.
The goal of vision therapy is to improve the functioning of the entire visual system (eyes, brain and body) so the child can receive, understand and respond to visual input more effectively.
Remember: Eyesight and vision are not the same (CLICK HERE to learn the difference). A child can have perfect eyesight and still have impaired vision.
Who is Vision Therapy for?
Vision therapy can help children with the following visual disorders/issues:
- Amblyopia- often referred to as "lazy eye," it occurs when an eye fails to attain normal visual acuity, usually due to strabismus or other problems of eye teaming.
- Convergence insufficiency- an inability to keep the eyes properly aligned when reading despite good eye alignment when looking at distant objects.
- Binocular vision problems- eye alignment issues that are not visible, but cause eye strain and fatigue while reading.
- Eye movement/ tracking disorders- when the brain hasn't learned to skillfully coordinate the muscles in the eyes; affects ability to read as well as hand-eye coordination
- Focusing disorders- difficulty with near-far focusing (common in children with vestibular processing issues)
- Visual processing disorders- including visual discrimination, form constancy, figure-ground, spatial relations, visual closure, visual sequencing and visual memory.
My Son's Vision Therapy Experience
The results of my son, H's, comprehensive eye exam showed he has deficits in the following areas: visual tracking, visual processing, eye-teaming, visual memory and hand-eye coordination. He also has a visual acuity issue that makes it five times harder to bring things into focus than it does for an average child.
So, what does this mean?
Compared to most kids his age, H has a harder time keeping his place while reading as well as understanding what he's read. He struggles to copy things from the board to his paper, has great difficulty writing and is challenged when it comes to sports.
Because his vision issues cause him to exert an enormous amount of cognitive output when reading, writing and doing any activity involving hand-eye coordination, he fatigues easily, becomes extremely frustrated and internalizes the belief that he's "not smart."
Towards the end of the year in kindergarten, he cried every day after school, telling me that reading and writing made him "tired," and that he felt "stupid" compared to the other kids in his class.
Heart-breaking, I know.
His complaints about schoolwork making him "tired" tipped me off that his struggles were likely vision-related, so I called his optometrist and moved his yearly vision exam up a couple months.
After explaining the results of his exam and how vision therapy could help, his doctor recommended 25 sessions. In the 5 months since he stared VT, we've seen measurable progress. He has not complained once about reading and writing and says that first grade is "really fun!"
Once he's completed 25 sessions, we'll reassess and decide whether to keep going or to switch back to occuaptional therapy.
I was worried that the vision therapy home program (20 minutes of daily vision exercises) was going to be a major challenge, but to my surprise H has been very compliant. The trick? 20 minutes of vision exercises = 20 minutes of screen time (sometimes you have to adopt the "whatever works" parenting approach!).
Here are a few examples of his home exercises:
Here he's standing on a balance board (to stimulate vestibular system) while he covers one eye and reads the numbers on the chart. The coordination of the visual and vestibular systems is the foundation for visually guided movement.
This one is for visual tracking, which helps with visual memory and visual-motor integration.
This exercise is for near-far coding, which helps develop the necessary eye movements for reading and writing.
How do I find a vision therapist?
If your child is struggling in school and you haven't ruled out a vision issue, CLICK HERE to find a developmental optometrist in your area. The first step is to schedule a comprehensive eye exam. Upon receiving the results, the optometrist will determine if vision therapy is right for your child.
When looking for a vision therapist, make sure...
- The therapist is a Fellow in the College Of Optometrists in Vision Development
- The therapy sessions are one-on-one and not in groups
- The therapist is a licensed therapist with plenty of experience
- There isn't a computer-based component
Our visual systems impact everything we do. Vision therapy can be an absolute game-changer for kids (and adults for that matter!) who have a vision and/or visual processing issue.
As always, leave your questions and comments below. The Sensory Mom community and I would love to hear from you.