Vision therapy is a way to treat eye ailments and some learning disorders through a series of eye exercises. These exercises are usually done under the direct supervision of a developmental optometrist. The purpose of vision therapy is to improve eye coordination and visual perception.
Visual therapy is a highly individualized program meant to address each patient’s unique vision/learning problems and rate of progress. It is a progressive program that constantly challenges patients with new exercises and procedures. Most doctors who treat patients with vision therapy see their patients once or twice a week for 30 minutes to an hour. Depending on the patient’s age and condition and the doctors system, some doctors give homework to the patients to complete at home.
Depending on the eye ailment or the learning disorder, the procedures of vision therapy vary. The therapy is used to help patients improve their fundamental visual skills and abilities. It is also used to alter how the patient processes or interprets visual information. The hope is to also improve the patient’s visual comfort and efficiency.
There are several specialized tools doctors use to perform visual therapy with patients. These include: corrective lenses, therapeutic lenses, prism lenses, optical filters, eye patches, computer software, balance boards and visual-motor-sensory integration training devices.
Advocates of Vision Therapy
People who are believers in the benefits of vision therapy believe that it will help improve reading skills, learning disabilities and coordination. Some of the learning disabilities that are usually addressed through vision therapy are dyspraxia, dyslexia and Attention Deficit Disorder.
Proponents of vision therapy believe that it is a great alternative to eyeglasses, contact lenses and eye surgery. They believe that vision therapy can teach the vision system to correct itself. They feel that vision therapy is really no different than physical therapy that is used to address many medical issues.
There are studies which have shown that vision therapy can correct vision problems that interfere with reading among school-aged children. It is also found to reduce eye strain for computer users (both in adults and children). But the biggest finding to aid in the push for visual therapy to become accepted as a valid therapy relates directly to neuroplasticity.
Some experts believe that certain irregularities associated with vision development, visual perception or visual function can be altered by neuroplasticity. If these components can be altered by neuroplasticity, then vision therapy is very likely to work. Vision problems that may be helped with vision therapy include accommodative (focusing) disorders, amblyopia (lazy eye), binocular vision problems, eye movement disorders, strabismus, and other problems.
Therapy is common place for many other ailments, but vision therapy is often seen as a snake oil treatment by many medical professionals. For instance, speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy are widely accepted. But, since a group of doctors (who were opposed to vision therapy) decided that vision therapy can’t improve vision, this has become accepted as fact by many people. These same doctors do not believe that vision has much to do with a person’s ability to learn. But some less outspoken doctors and educators believe wholeheartedly that vision therapy is the next step in overcoming learning disorders.
One of the biggest opponents to vision therapy is the American Academy of Pediatrics. The American Academy of Ophthalmology is another opponent. These two organizations released a joint statement in 2009 criticizing vision therapy as “scientifically unsupported.”
Dr. Sheryl Handler of the American Academy of Ophthalmology wrote, “Ineffective, controversial methods of treatment such as vision therapy may give parents and teachers a false sense of security that a child’s learning difficulties are being addressed, may waste family and/or school resources, and may delay proper instruction or remediation.”
Debate Between Optometrists and Ophthalmologists
When it comes to vision therapy and learning disabilities, optometrists and ophthalmologists have very different opinions about their connection and the ability of vision therapy to help with learning disabilities. A lot of optometrists believe that vision therapy is a great component of a larger system of treating certain types of learning disabilities. Most of theses optometrists recognize that children with learning disabilities commonly also have underlying vision problems that may be contributing to their delay in learning or their learning problems.
These same optometrists believe that these learning-related vision problems may be successfully treated with optometric vision therapy. They believe this could improve the child’s overall capacity for learning.
Ophthalmologists, on the other hand, have a completely different view than the optometrists. They feel that vision therapy is an ineffective tool in treating any type of learning problem. They say there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that the correction of vision problems reduces the severity of learning disabilities.
Many people have taken a clear stance for or against vision therapy. But, even if vision therapy does not help everyone, if it helps a small percentage of people who undergo treatment, it is still a valid therapy. Most parents of children with learning disabilities are willing to try every practical avenue to help their children. More research needs to be completed to find the best vision therapy methods. This would allow doctors to develop the correct program that is best suited for each of their patients.