Vision Therapy is a doctor supervised program designed to improve the function of the visual system. Vision Therapy allows patients the opportunity for new visual experiences through the use of lenses, prisms, filters, and 3-D activities, among other things. Vision Therapy is individualized to the unique needs of the patient.
Most Vision Therapy is conducted in-office, in once or twice weekly sessions lasting 30 minutes to 1 hour. There are often homework items to supplement in-office work. A therapy program can last from15 weeks to a year or more depending on the individual’s diagnosis, their age and their commitment and participation level in the program.
Vision Therapy works to allow better visual comfort, visual efficiency and grace of movement. It can alter the way a person interprets what they see including improving depth perception. It can help the struggling reader, the athlete, or someone who has suffered a brain injury. Those with Dyslexia or Attention Deficit Disorder are often found to have significant visual problems affecting their learning. If so, vision therapy can help these individuals improve their reading and overall classroom performance.
Vision therapy is not simply eye exercises. It is a scientifically-based program which, when combined with careful history, visual examination and dedicated participation, can have dramatic results.
Is a Vision Therapy eye examination different from a standard examination?
The importance of careful observation and history cannot be underestimated. The impact of a poorly functioning visual system on the classroom is obvious. The loss of a functioning, family member to brain injury is similarly evident. A study done by the National Institute of Health in 2008 clearly showed that in the case of Convergence Insufficiency, in-office vision therapy was more successful than home based programs involving pencil push-ups and computers. There is no doubt among COVT&R members that the best way to care for the patient in need of VT, is to have a doctor supervised program and regular weekly or biweekly visits with a qualified vision therapist.
Who Needs Vision Therapy?
Vision Therapy can enhance everyone’s lives be it from helping the crossed or strabismic eye maintain alignment, helping a struggling student learn, or even enhancing the batting average of a major league baseball player through reaction time and peripheral awareness. In order to be successful with vision therapy, the participant needs to have a goal and be willing to invest time and energy in working with their doctor and/or therapist to achieve this goal.
Lazy (Amblyopia)/Turned (Strabismic) eyes
A lazy eye, called Amblyopia, results when one eye doesn’t receive a quality visual image due to a large prescription difference between the eyes, or a misalignment of the eyes (strabismus). As a result of receiving a blurry image from one eye, the brain adapts to actively suppress that eye in order to avoid double vision and/or confusion. Vision Therapy is often very successful in this group of patients, as patching or surgery alone does not treat the root of the problem. Vision therapy acts by breaking the active suppression of the poorer seeing eye by training the brain to use both eyes as a team. Functionally these patients will have a better appreciation of depth of space, will develop better hand-eye coordination and will also see improvements in their coordination and sports performance.
Autism, Special Needs, Cerebral Palsy
Patients with autism can show an array of vision based behaviours such as poor eye contact, lateral peering and waving stimulating objects like their hands – in front of their eyes. There is the assumption that these behaviours are not treatable when perhaps they are instead caused by an underlying treatable vision condition. If an underlying vision condition is found to account for some or all of the vision based behaviours, it may be helped with vision therapy.
Patients with cerebral palsy have a lack of muscle control due to brain damage near the time of birth. Conditions such as strabismus can be related to poor muscle control in the eyes. Vision therapy can be a non-surgical means of helping these patients achieve better visual function and cosmetic appearance by treating the underlying muscle control problem. Poor muscle coordination does not always result in a strabismus; it can also affect the ability to focus and to track properly. Vision therapy improves muscle coordination and control which can help with better acquisition of visual information and improve their development and quality of life.
Childhood is full of wonderful things including experiences that prepare us for future demands. Reading is an example of a skill that develops sequentially. Just as a child must learn to walk before they can run, the eyes must learn to move smoothly and accurately before a child can learn to read.
The following chart is from: How to Develop Your Child’s Intelligence by G.N. Getman. This chart details developmental milestones from 6 months to 4 years of age.
These ideas have been around for a long time but they are even more relevant in today’s information age.
Infants are born with reflexes to guide them through early development. These reflexes are automatic motor movements that help infants survive – such as the sucking reflex. During normal development, infant reflexes are integrated and become voluntary movements. If they are not integrated properly – called retained primitive reflexes – they may impede further development.
Complex neuro pathways control the vision system and can be adversely affected when a person has a brain injury such as from a stroke or concussion. A variety of symptoms can be experienced from light sensitivity, to double vision, to sensorimotor spatial disorganization. Vision therapy is highly individualized for these people and is focused on rehabilitation so that normal function can resume.
Vision guides action and thus is very important for the success of many athletes. Sports vision therapy is individualized for the athlete’s sport of choice depending on the specific demands of their sport. Areas that are focused on include: hand-eye coordination, dynamic visual acuity, peripheral vision, depth perception, tracking and focus ability. Professional athletes in a variety of sports have used vision therapy to bring their game to the next level.