Vision Therapy for Children
Vision therapy is similar to physical therapy in that it involves a series of specific activities and exercises, devised by specialists, which are used to improve certain eye problems. The therapy program doesn't work on the eyes alone, but also on the brain, and can be used to treat things like binocular vision disorders (problems which arise when the eyes do not work together properly) and focusing disorders.
While vision therapy can sometimes be used with success in older children and adults, it is essential that treatment be started as soon as possible once a problem is diagnosed. During the formative years, a child's brain is creating essential connections for vision, and even minor vision problems can negatively affect their development. Good vision is also critical for schoolwork, and problems with eye teaming, tracking and focusing can make it difficult or impossible for children to learn. How can a child be expected to remain focused on their tasks and do good in school when they can't even see their work clearly? In fact, many children who are initially diagnosed with learning disabilities are later found to have vision problems.
Vision therapy is not a new idea. It was begun in the 1930’s and is supported by many years of research. Many thousands of patients have benefited from vision therapy.
Diagnosing a need for vision therapy
Some qualified optometrists specialize in children’s vision. They are often called pediatric optometrists. They must be board certified and have received accreditation to diagnose and treat binocular vision and other vision problems. This involves extensive post-graduate training beyond a standard optometry degree.
Vision therapy may be recommended if a child is struggling with classwork or if a regular eye exam has uncovered a problem with his or her binocular vision. The child will then be seen by the doctor for a vision development evaluation and a diagnostic workshop. Whilst checking a child’s eye health and sharpness of vision on a standard eye chart, the doctor will evaluate eye teaming, tracking, focusing and visual perception along with hand-eye coordination skills. A computerized recording of the eye movements during reading may also be used. Based on these tests, a program of therapy is recommended which will outline certain therapy treatments and goals for the patient. Parents are always involved in all decisions, including appointment times and insurance coverage.
What problems can be treated with vision therapy?
- Accommodative (focusing) disorders. Vision training has been shown to make improvements to near-to-far focusing skills.
- Amblyopia. Also known as ‘lazy eye,’ amblyopia is when one eye has poor vision that cannot be corrected with glasses or contacts and is not due to a physical problem with the eye. The condition is usually caused by problems with eye teaming or alignment (such as crossed eyes aka strabismus) which causes the brain to favor one eye, leading to decreased vision in the other. This condition can often be helped with vision therapy.
- Other binocular vision problems. Vision therapy can be used to correct or minimize different eye teaming problems such as convergence insufficiency. This eye-teaming vision disorder can cause eye strain and problems with reading and close work if not treated.
- Strabismus. Vision therapy is often used to help in cases of crossed eyes or other types of misalignments in the eyes. The degree of success of non-surgical procedures depends upon the frequency, magnitude and direction of the eye misalignment.
- Eye movement disorders. Vision therapy can significantly improve the accuracy of movements with both eyes during reading and other near vision activities.
What Does Vision Therapy Entail?
Treatment may include any or all of the following:
- Viewing instruments
- Computer programs
- Visual exercises
- Occlusion (covering an eye, such as with an eye patch)
Non-medical tools such as metronomes, balance boards and other devices may also be used us fun tools. By treating the visual system as a whole, vision therapy is able to change reflexive, automatic behavior. These all aim to return the patient to normal vision in both eyes. These sessions may last from 3-12 months, attending once or twice per week. It all depends upon the severity of the problem and the response to the treatment. A trained therapist works with the eye doctor to provide this vision therapy. It is often augmented with home therapy to reinforce new skills. The doctor regularly assesses the progress as treatment goals are established and met.
Common Goals of Vision Therapy
Patients who need vision therapy with eye teaming, tracking, focusing, visual motor integration and visual perception problems often also have difficulty with reading, double vision, headaches, eyestrain and short attention spans. These patients can greatly benefit from vision therapy and can then function normally in the classroom.
Patients with crossed, turned eyes or wandering eyes only see through one eye at a time. Their brain suppresses the weak eye. Therapy is used to straighten the eyes and teaches the patient to use both eyes in order to obtain normal vision.
In all these cases, results have been very encouraging. Vision therapy is very effective in treating vision-based causes of learning problems. Once the problem has been diagnosed, treatment can begin but often the problem goes unnoticed for too long. School eye exams only test a child’s distance vision using the eye chart. Specialized tests are required to determine if all the visual skills are as they should be. It is therefore imperative that if your child has any learning problems at school, an in-depth eye test should be one of the first tests arranged. Visual help can then be obtained early on, or the problem can be ruled out and other possibilities can be considered.
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