What is Vision Therapy?
Vision therapy is a doctor-supervised, non-surgical and customized program of visual activities designed to correct certain vision problems and/or improve visual skills. Unlike eyeglasses and contact lenses, which simply compensate for vision problems, or eye surgery that alters the anatomy of the eye or surrounding muscles, vision therapy aims to “teach” the visual system to correct itself. Vision therapy is like physical therapy for the visual system, including the eyes and the parts of the brain that control vision.
It is important to note that vision therapy is not defined by a simple list of tools and techniques. Successful vision therapy outcomes are achieved through a therapeutic process that depends on the active engagement of the prescribing doctor, the patient and (in the case of children) the child’s parents.
Overall, the goal of vision therapy is to treat vision problems that cannot be treated successfully with eyeglasses, contact lenses and/or surgery alone, and help people achieve clear, comfortable binocular vision. Many studies have shown that vision therapy can correct vision problems that interfere with efficient reading among schoolchildren. It also can help reduce eye strain and other symptoms of computer vision syndrome experienced by many children and adults.
The vision therapy program is based on the results of a comprehensive eye examination or consultation, and takes into consideration the results of standardized tests, the needs of the patient, and the patient’s signs and symptoms. The use of lenses, prisms, filters, occluders, specialized instruments, and computer programs is an integral part of vision therapy. The length of the therapy program varies depending on the severity of the diagnosed conditions, typically ranging from several months to longer periods of time. Activities paralleling in-office techniques are typically taught to the patient to be practiced at home, thereby reinforcing the developing visual skills.
What vision problems can Vision Therapy treat?
Research has demonstrated vision therapy can be an effective treatment option for:
- Amblyopia, also called “lazy eye,” is a vision development problem where an eye fails to attain normal visual acuity, typically 20/20, usually due to strabismus, significant prescription in one or both eyes, or other problems of eye teaming.
- Strabismus, also called “eye turn,” is an eye that is misaligned relative to the visual axis. The success of vision therapy for strabismus depends on the direction, magnitude and frequency of the eye turn.
- Other binocular vision problems. Subtle eye alignment problems called phorias that may not produce a visible eye turn but still can cause eye strain and eye fatigue when reading also can be minimized or corrected with vision therapy.
- Eye movement disorders. Studies demonstrate vision therapy can improve the accuracy of eye movements used during reading and other close-up work.
- Accommodative (focusing) disorders. Other research demonstrates near-far focusing skills can be improved with vision training.
- Other problems. Other vision problems for which vision therapy may be effective include visual-perceptual disorders, vision problems associated with developmental disabilities and vision problems associated with acquired brain injury (such as from a stroke).
Can vision therapy help children with learning problems?
Yes! Vision therapy can be an important part of the overall treatment of a learning problem. Vision and sensorimotor deficits can cause eyestrain, headaches, blurred or double vision, loss of place while reading, and difficulty maintaining attention on close work. Correcting these deficits allows the patient to achieve their full potential.
Are you investigating possible causes for your child’s problems with ADD/ADHD, attention span, behavior, learning and/or reading?
Look for these signs and symptoms below:
- One eye drifts or aims in a different direction than the other (look carefully — this can be subtle). This is significant even if it only occurs when the child is tired or stressed.
- Turns or tilts head to see• Head is frequently tilted to one side or one shoulder is noticeably higher
- Squinting/closing/covering one eye
- Excessive blinking or squinting
- Short attention span
- Daydreaming in class
- Poor handwriting
- Poor visual/motor skills (often called “hand-eye coordination”)
- Problems moving in space, frequently bumps into things or drops things
- Clumsiness on playground or at home
While reading or doing close work:
- Holds the book or object unusually close
- Closes one eye or covers eye with hand
- Twists or tilts head toward book or object so as to favor one eye
- Frequently loses place and fatigues easily
- Uses finger to read
- Rubs eyes during or after short periods of reading
- Reversals when reading (i.e., “was” for “saw”, “on” for “no”, etc.)
- Reversals when writing (b for d, p for q, etc.)
- Omitting or confusing small words
- Transposition of letters and numbers (12 for 21, etc.)
- Loss of place when reading, line to line and word to word.
- Child’s ability to learn verbally surpasses his ability to learn visually
Child complains of:
- Only being able to read for short periods of time
- Headaches or eyestrain
- Nausea or dizziness
- Motion sickness
- Double vision
*Note: Parents are advised to be aware that the diagnosis of ADD/ADHD cannot be made by teachers or school administrators alone. A determination of the diagnosis of ADD/ADHD can only be made by a team of education and health professionals. As ADD/ADHD is a neurological diagnosis, a neurologist should be a member of the team. The evaluation process should also include comprehensive examination of the child’s visual and auditory skills in order to rule out any problems with visual processing, auditory processing, or sensory motor integration.
How long does vision therapy take to correct learning related vision disorders?
Vision therapy programs are individually designed for each child based on the severity of the conditions being treated, the patient’s motivation and readiness, and the number of therapy sessions per week the patient can attend. Therapy programs might range in duration from 3 months to 2 years. However — to use some common terminology — vision therapy is “short-term therapy” or “goal-oriented therapy.” Unlike some other forms of therapy, you will not hear of an individuals being in therapy for years without goals being met. Vision therapy is effective AND cost-effective!
How long do the results of vision therapy last?
Most healthy vision therapy patients enjoy long term resolution of their visual problems. Generalizing the newly acquired visual abilities to the activities of daily life allows these new visual skills to become self-reinforcing. Efficient vision becomes a habit, as hard to break any other habit! Sickness, extreme fatigue or emotional trauma may cause temporary changes in visual skills. Patients with strabismus, amblyopia or traumatic brain injury may need to perform a minimum level of periodic maintenance therapy in order to sustain the high levels of visual performance attained during regular in-office therapy.
For more information visit the College of Optometrists in Vision Development website