Vision Therapy for the Eyes and Brain
Good eyesight requires a person’s eyes and brain, along with the complex visual pathways connecting them, to all work together as a team. When they don’t, even someone with 20/20 eyesight can have difficulty processing visual information, and their performance at work, school or play suffers as a result. When a patient’s vision problems cannot be corrected with eyeglasses or contact lenses, Vision Therapy is sometimes prescribed.
What is Vision Therapy?
Vision Therapy is a supervised program of eye exercises along with other activities specifically tailored for each patient to improve visual-processing and visual-motor skills. Vision Therapy usually consists of office visits combined with at-home activities.
Under the supervision of Dr. Pinkerton and a specially trained vision therapist, patients use optical devices (prisms, lenses, filters, occluders) and other equipment to retrain the muscles that control their eyes in order to make eye movements easier and more efficient. In addition, Vision Therapy can redirect visual pathways between the eyes and brain as the patient learns how to correctly process the visual information the brain receives from the eyes.
Vision Therapy is not the same as self-help programs that claim to reduce refractive errors (the cause of nearsightedness and farsightedness) and the need for glasses. Vision Therapy is approved by the American Optometric Association for treating non-refractive vision problems, and there are many scientific studies that demonstrate its effectiveness.
Visual and neuromuscular skills addressed in Vision Therapy include:
- Eye tracking — the ability to follow a moving object (such as a flying bird) or a line of text in a book.
- Fixation — the ability to locate and look at an object.
- Focusing — the ability to make an object clear, and to switch focus from near to far and back again.
- Binocularity — using both eyes together, simultaneously and in equal partnership, so the brain can fuse the visual input from each eye into a single, three-dimensional image.
- Visual perceptual skills — identifying and understanding what is seen; judging its importance; and associating it with previous visual information stored in the brain.
- Visual-motor integration — eye-hand coordination and body awareness.
When the eyes move, align, fixate and focus together as a team, learning and schoolwork becomes easier; reading level and speed increases; the ability to follow moving objects improves; the ability to shift focus from near to far improves; and visualizing images in the mind becomes easier.
Who Benefits from Vision Therapy?
Vision Therapy is often prescribed instead of, or in addition to, surgery or patching to treat strabismus (crossed eye) or amblyopia (“lazy” eye).
Victims of head trauma, brain injury and stroke can benefit from Vision Therapy as part of their rehabilitation.
And Vision Therapy is also used to make good vision even better; for example, we work with athletes to develop individualized sports vision therapy programs to improve eye-hand coordination, reaction time, peripheral awareness, eye teaming, binocularity, focusing and tracking.
Our Vision Therapy “graduates” have ranged from age 3 on up to 55. The majority of our Vision Therapy patients are schoolchildren whose visual problems led to learning difficulties. Sadly, many kids are mistakenly diagnosed with attention-deficit and/or hyperactivity disorders, learning disabilities, or development delays when in fact they have untreated visual problems that cause similar symptoms. It’s important to note that a child who is struggling in school could have a learning-related vision problem, a learning disability or both. While Vision Therapy is a highly effective treatment for vision problems, it does not correct a learning disability. However, children with learning disabilities may also have vision problems that are contributing to their difficulties in the classroom, and treating the visual problems can go a long way toward improving their self-esteem, school performance and future prospects.
To find out if a patient might benefit from Vision Therapy, Dr. Pinkerton conducts a functional eye exam, which includes all the tests performed in a routine eye exam plus additional tests to detect non-refractive vision problems. These extra tests may include assessments of eye focusing, eye teaming and eye movement abilities (also called accommodation, binocular vision and ocular motility testing).
For More Information
For an overview of Vision Therapy as described by Dr. Pinkerton, click here. For scientific support of the safety and efficacy of Vision Therapy, please see the Research Summaries and White Papers compiled by the College of Optometrists in Vision Development, and the Optometrists Network’s Vision Therapy References, Research and Scientific Studies page.
You might also enjoy this parent-produced video, which won the College of Optometrists in Vision Development’s Visions of Hope contest (providing patients with an opportunity to share their successes).