Vision therapy: sounds like a good idea, right? After all, at Rebuild Your Vision, we’re all about improving your vision naturally, and if this type of therapy can help with other ailments, too, what’s not to love? Unfortunately, for some people, it’s not that simple. Vision therapy is much more controversial than you may have thought.
Vision therapy is a way to treat eye ailments and some learning disorders through a series of eye exercises. Patients perform these exercises under the direct supervision of a developmental optometrist. The purpose of vision therapy is to improve eye coordination and visual perception. Sounds great, right? Keep reading to learn more about this controversial topic.
What Is Vision Therapy?
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 doctor’s 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. Doctors use this therapy to help patients improve their fundamental visual skills and abilities. Therapy proponents also use vision therapy 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. Doctors address learning disabilities like dyspraxia, dyslexia, and Attention Deficit Disorder through vision therapy. For people looking to give their children a better life with better vision, vision therapy may seem like a no-brainer.
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 mimics physical therapy used to address many medical issues.
There are studies that 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 validating visual therapy is directly related 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 change because of neuroplasticity, then vision therapy is very likely to work. Some doctors believe they can treat accommodative (focusing) disorders, amblyopia (lazy eye), binocular vision problems, eye movement disorders, strabismus, and other problems with vision therapy
Therapy is commonplace 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.
The Opposition: Why Is Vision Therapy Controversial?
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. It is difficult to ascertain just how helpful these strategies can be.
Optometrists are essentially primary eye care doctors, similar to the doctor you see for your annual physical exam. 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 these 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 they can treat vision-related learning disabilities with visual therapy. They believe this could improve the child’s overall capacity for learning.
Ophthalmologists, on the other hand, have a completely different view than optometrists. Think of your ophthalmologist as a bit more specialized eye doctor who could also be your eye surgeon. 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. This just goes to show that the way you do your research matters!
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. Scientists need to conduct more research to find the best vision therapy methods. Doctors can then develop the correct program that best suits each of their patients. Until then, the jury is still out on the effectiveness of vision therapy.