Every parent wants to hear that his or her child has 20/20 vision. But good eyesight doesn’t always mean perfect vision.
Vision disorders — a common cause behind poor academic achievement and misbehavior — often go undetected. The good news is one treatment, vision therapy (VT), may provide a solution.
The vision/learning connection
Nearly 80 percent of what our brain takes in occurs visually, making good vision essential to academic success. If your child is diagnosed as farsighted or nearsighted, glasses generally correct the problem, allowing him to take in all of the visual information thrown his way.
However, image processing doesn’t stop with the eyes, notes Dr. Marc Taub, chief of vision therapy and rehabilitative therapy for The Eye Center at Southern College of Optometry. Instead, once the eyes take in information, the brain must interpret what is being seen. With a visual disorder, that brain/eye partnership doesn’t function as it should, which can result in eye fatigue, reduced 3D vision, double vision, letter reversal, and/or line skipping during reading.
Candidates for vision therapy
Sheryl Butler’s 10-year-old son was diagnosed with strabismus when he was 3; the disorder causes one eye to turn out when he’s tired. After years of patching, Butler says there was some improvement. But, “Over time, he basically quit using the eye and used the stronger eye instead,” says Butler. Later, her ophthalmologist told her after age 9, her son’s vision would no longer improve. Researching online, Butler read about vision therapy, which can help people with strabismus at any age.
So Butler took her son to the Eye Center at the Southern College of Optometry. After several months of weekly visits, she began to see results.
“It’s amazing,” she says. “His eyes are working together, and his eyesight, depth perception, and 3D vision have improved greatly.” Vision therapy was able to correct his vision from 20/60 to 20/20 minus 2. His reading has improved, a result of better tracking, since his eyes don’t skip lines as often. As an added bonus, his sports activities have improved, thanks to improved vision.
Taub stresses that vision therapy is not for refractive conditions related to eye structure, such as nearsightedness or farsightedness. Rather, VT helps with amblyopia (lazy eye), strabismus (eye turn), eye teaming, tracking, and other perceptual problems that essentially stem not from problems with the eyes but from the brain.
Therapy means brain training
Taub best describes VT as being similar to physical therapy for the brain. “Vision therapy is a way to train the brain, which includes the visual system, to more efficiently take information and process that information.” Each treatment is specialized to the specific diagnosis and conducted under a doctor’s supervision. Therapy utilizes various non-surgical instruments, tools, and exercises during in-office visits once or twice a week, depending on the individual’s needs.
Surprisingly, vision disorders share many of the same signs and symptoms as dyslexia, ADD, and ADHD. Taub is a perfect example. As a young student, he recalls being able to listen to information and give it back verbally, yet was incapable of processing visual information. “I couldn’t learn in a traditional manner, yet I was a kid who on the surface seemed smart.”
Taub also had behavior issues. “I was what I would call an ADHD type of kid. I couldn’t sit in my seat.” Once the headaches and eyestrain started each day after half an hour of study, he would lose the ability to concentrate, and thus, begin to misbehave.
Fortunately, he was correctly diagnosed as a child and began vision therapy at age 6. His academic performance steadily improved once he began therapy. “I can honestly say I would not be doing what I am doing today if it wasn’t for vision therapy.”
Because of the potential for the misdiagnosis of vision-related problems, Taub advises parents to get a comprehensive eye exam — not just a traditional chart eye exam — if your child is having difficulty reading, is diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, or is having other learning problems. While many schools and pediatricians perform eye checkups, those screenings check for visual acuity, not visual skills such as tracking or focusing. Taub recommends seeing a qualified optometrist. “You want an exam that checks the visual system, including eye health.”
The Eye Center | Southern College of Optometry — tec.sco.edu/the-eye-center • 722-3250
Children’s Eye Foundation — childrenseyefoundation.org
Does Your Child Have Vision Issues?
- Skips and rereads lines
- Poor reading comprehension
- Homework takes much longer than it should
- Reverses letters like “b” into “d” when reading
- Short attention span with reading and schoolwork
- Double vision after reading
- Headaches when reading
- Excessive eye rubbing or blinking
- Uses finger to keep place
- Trouble with mathematical concepts