Why Vision Therapy Is Important
Vision is the most complex sensory system. It relates many senses together to give us not only the ability to ‘see’ something, but to know what it is, where it is, where we are, if we are up or down, if something is rough, smooth, hot, cold… the list goes on. As important to us as our ability to ‘see’ something with our eyes, ‘vision’ allows us to construct a very detailed mapping of our bodies and the space around us – this ‘spatial map’ is our primary frame of reference, the foundation upon which mentally ‘stand’ when we do virtually everything that we do and think.
Most optometrists and ophthalmologists are interested simply in the state of the ‘eye’ through two questions – is the eye healthy, and do light rays focus properly on the retina? This is barely scratching the surface of vision and comes no where near to being able to achieve what devlopmental/behavioural optometry can clinically because it considers the entire visual process, and the person’s particular visual needs, not just the eye’s health and eyesight. This is an important clinical difference.
Defining ‘developmental optometry’ is a difficult thing to do. Way beyond giving people glasses and ensuring good health, developmental optometry strives to ‘fix’ people’s vision, to make them learn to use their active vision better by breaking it down to smaller pieces and strengthening those things are are not working efficiently.
For example, we will teach a child to deal with text on a page starting from the ground up, so he can overcome a reading problem. Other approaches will simply force the child to read more, or perhaps prescribe medication to make him sit still.
Other clients who have a variety of serious medical concerns from turned eyes, to ‘lazy eyes’, to migraines, and upper back, neck, and shoulder problems, and vertigo will more often than not find relief through developmental optometry where others fail. For example, following a motor vehicle accident or a roadside explosion in a war zone, the impact throws the visual process into disarray and this will affect virtually all aspects of a person’s life – from balance, to mood swings, to dizziness, headache, poor balance and motor control, inability to read, and more. Only developmental optometry has proven to effectively treat these symptoms and thereby facilitate therapy with others like physiotherapy and occupational therapy.
There are critics who question whether so many things can be truly be addressed through neurorehabilitation of the ‘visual process’. For some reason, the critics will not doubt the value of physiotherapy, or occupational therapy, but cannot ascribe even minimal benefit to rehabilitating the most important and pervasive sense we own. This is tragically funny in that in the end the doubters who actually look into the anatomy, physiology, and neurology of vision inevitably have that ‘duh’ moment where suddenly something so apparently simple is exposed as something simply and utterly complex, and that troubled vision can and will influence a great range of things in our lives.
The tragedy is in the fact that while dismissing visual neurorehabilitation, patients are sent for interventions that lead to marginal results at best, often at great cost. In medicine, for example patients are sent to undergo invasive and often dangerous and unnecessary treatments before considering something so obvious as dysfunctional vision. In education circles, rather than look into visual dysfunction, it is much more common for administrators to agree with expensive reading therapies, and invasive psycho-educational testing and medication before ever considering looking at visual function and visual neurorehabilitation.
Visual neurorehabilitation combined with specialized academic programming (not simply ‘more reading’) remains the only means of dealing effectively with reading problems that are not true disabilities.
Our western lifestyle is giving rise to more visual functional problems, this combined with the increasing demand on vision in the classroom means more children cannot handle the prolonged text-based model of instruction. It is no wonder learning disability advocacy groups report ever rising rates of reading ‘disability’, which, by definition implies mild brain damage – a conclusion that cannot be proven in science, nor one that this writer can reasonably support. The fact is, a condition of ‘disability’ is exceedingly rare and can only be shown as a diagnosis of exclusion, but if visual dysfunction is not excluded, then we cannot know there is a true disability (meaning, neurological impairment). Visual neurorehabilitation combined with specialized academic programming (not simply ‘more reading’) remains the only means of dealing effectively with reading problems that are not true disabilities.
It’s a little hard to explain in 300 words, but let’s say that if a modern fighter jet is complicated, vision is immeasurably more complicated. Please search for ‘background‘ articles on this for more information on vision. You can also enroll in the introductory course to learn some of the foundations of what visual neuro-rehabilitation is, and why it is so critical in learning.
It is common for people to have intractable headache and muscular pain and they will load up on analgesics and expensive brain imaging — which is still of course extremely useful when you need it – but frequently the cause is in visual dysfunction, so the pills serve only to make someone’s pockets lighter and contribute to dependency risk. A good friend spent 12 years in school pressing a pencil case against his forehead to lessen the pain of what I now know to be a serious vision problem — he spent virtually every year suffering not only due to pain, but because he couldn’t read he always performed well below his potential, and got into a lot of trouble for it. Today, I help people like Archie overcome visual obstacles long before they become serious impediments to life and work. Developmental/behavioural optometry is the only solution for most who have not been able to find help elsewhere.
Why you should find a trained vision therapist.
For the same reason you would not trust brain surgery to a general practitioner. General optometrists and ophthalmologists alike lack the training and understanding of visual processes, human behaviour, and therapy to allow them to effectively detect and treat the many serious conditions that arise from laboured vision.
“…weak attempts are made by general doctors to provide their patients a ‘cure’ by doing ‘pencil pushups’ or some other simple activity, but these almost always yield marginal or disappointing results. One of the consequences of this is that ‘visual therapy’ is given a bad name as ‘unscientific’ or ‘useless’ clinically.”
At times, weak attempts are made by general doctors to provide their patients a ‘cure’ by doing ‘pencil pushups’ or some other simple activity, but these almost always yield marginal or disappointing results. One of the consequences of this is that ‘visual therapy’ is given a bad name as ‘unscientific’ or ‘useless’ clinically. But research now shows what developmental optometrists have known for some time – only clinically-based, doctor-guided, visual neurorehabilitation provides consistently strong results. See our Providers or www.oepf.org for listings of developmental optometrists in your area.
What we offer.
While we offer eLVT for assisting parents of children with learning difficulty, this is an on-line course and program available to anyone, regardless of whether they see a doctor or not. This is not, however, the same as developmental optometry which requires regular clinical visits and guided intensive therapy. In our clinic, we help people to overcome a variety of problems associated with dysfunctional vision:
>Amblyopia or ‘lazy eye’.
>PTVS: Post Traumatic Vision Syndrome.
>Visual effects of nerve tract damage in the brain from disease and injury.
>Reading impediments at any age.
We also work with healthy individuals to assist them in becoming more focused and productive at work. Through clinical interventions, we also assist in areas other than visual dysfunction to help people learn to quit smoking, focus attention, become more aware of themselves and their physical environment, and more efficient with their use of visual space – useful for those who work in visually-intensive jobs, like lawyers, doctors, accountants, engineers of all kinds, graphic artists, and more.
If you are a therapist interested in learning more about Learning and Vision Therapy, you can sign up for our brief introductory course HERE.