Optometric vision therapy, sometimes called visual training or VT, is that part of optometric care devoted to developing, improving and enhancing people’s visual performance. Vision therapy can benefit people of all ages.
Over several decades, behavioural optometrists have developed and used vision therapy in combination with appropriate, judiciously selected lenses to:
– Prevent vision and eye problems from developing
– Develop the visual skills needed to achieve more effectively at school, work or play
– Enhance functioning on tasks demanding sustained visual effort
– Remediate or compensate for vision and eye problems which have already developed
Through vision therapy, people are able to develop more efficient visual performance.
VISION: A SET OF ABILITIES
Nearly all humans are born with the potential for good eyesight, but vision – the ability to identify, interpret and understand what is seen – is learned and developed, starting from birth.
In learning to walk, a child begins by creeping, crawling, standing, walking with assistance, and finally, walking unaided. A similar process from gross to fine motor control takes place in the development of vision.
One visual skill builds on another, step-by-step as we grow. But many people miss a step, or do not complete a step, or must begin to perform school or other visually demanding tasks before an acceptable foundation of basic visual skills is in place.
Science indicates that we do not “see” with our eyes or our brain; rather, vision is the reception and processing of visual information by the total person. Since 65% – 80% of all information we receive is visual, it becomes clear that efficient visual skills are a critical part of learning, working and even recreation. Athletes, for example, use vision therapy for improved performance in their sport.
Developing visual skills includes learning to use both eyes together effectively. Having both eyes move, align, fixate and focus as a team enhances your ability to interpret and understand the potential visual information that is available to you.
Intelligent persons who are very highly motivated can be good achievers, even with very poor visual skills and abilities, but at untold cost in wasted energy and unnecessary effort and stress. For those who are less motivated, even one or two deficient visual skills can produce enough stress and frustration to create a non-achiever.
WHAT ARE THE VISUAL SKILLS?
The visual skills which can be developed and enhanced through vision therapy include:
Tracking. The ability to follow a moving object smoothly and accurately with both eyes, such as a ball in flight or moving vehicles in traffic.
Fixation. The ability to quickly and accurately locate and inspect with both eyes a series of stationary objects, one after another, such as moving from word to word while reading.
Focus Change. The ability to look quickly from far to near and vice versa without momentary blur, such as looking from the chalkboard to a book or from the dashboard to cars on the street.
Depth Perception. The ability to judge relative distances of objects and to see and move accurately in three-dimensional space, such as when hitting a ball or parking a car.
Peripheral Vision. The ability to monitor and interpret what is happening around you while you are attending to a specific central visual task; the ability to use visual information perceived over a large area.
Binocularity. The ability to use both eyes together, smoothly, equally, simultaneously and accurately.
Maintaining Attention. The ability to keep doing any particular skill or activity with ease and without interfering with the performance of other skills.
Near Vision Acuity. The ability to clearly see, inspect, identify and understand objects at near distances, within arm’s length.
Distance Acuity. The ability to clearly see, inspect, identify and understand objects at a distance. People with 6/6 of 20/20 distance sight may still have visual problems.
Visualization. The ability to form mental images in your “mind’s eye,” retain or store them for future recall, or for synthesis into new mental images beyond your current or past direct experiences.
VISUAL SKILL/VISUAL STRESS
If an individual’s visual skills are not adequately developed, or a person fails to coordinate vision with other senses, vision problems may occur.
With poor binocularity, for example, one eye may locate an object in one place while the other eye locates it in another. The confusing signals may result in:
Headaches. Especially near the eyes or forehead, or occasionally at the back of the head.
Double Vision. Two objects are seen when only one exists.
Reduced Performance. Losing your place while reading, re-reading words or lines, difficulty with understanding or recalling what you’ve read and reading slowly.
Discomfort, Fatigue. Body tension, stress or pain; weariness at the end of a school or work day.
Suppression. Information from one eye may be blocked or ignored to avoid seeing double. If the visual problem is not corrected, it may get worse.
Nearpoint visual stress, the result of sustained visual activities done at less than arm’s length, may produce most of the problems listed above.
There are many other common eye and visual problems which can limit the way you live and enjoy life. These include:
Nearsightedness. Myopia – seeing more easily at near than at distances.
Farsightedness. Hyperopia – seeing more easily at distances than at near.
Strabismus. Crossed eyes.
Amblyopia. Lowered visual acuity (clarity), not correctable to normal acuity with lenses.
Astigmatism. Distorted vision interferes with seeing clearly at any distance without effort.
Poor Vision-Body Movement Coordination. Clumsiness, awkwardness, inefficient eye-hand or eye-body coordination, poor handwriting.
Vision therapy, usually combined with appropriate lenses, may remedy, improve or prevent any of these conditions in both children and adults.
Vision therapy and lenses are intended to alleviate the symptoms and eliminate the underlying cause – inadequate visual skills and visual stress.
Studies show that success in vision therapy depends on an appropriate program prescribed by your optometrist, and on an individual patient’s cooperation, participation and motivation.
Beyond Visual Performance
Vision therapy also has proven to be a remarkably effective tool in helping people with learning related visual problems. Many problems in learning to read and write are made worse by poorly developed visual skills.
Dozens of experimental programs involving thousands of children and adults demonstrate that when visual skills are enhanced through vision therapy, learning is easier, reading levels rise, and in some cases, IQ scores have increased.
Building visual skills increases the ability to visualize, conceptualize and to create. Dr. Johan Petalozzi, a Swiss education reformer, notes that “conceptual thinking is built on visual understanding.”
The American Optometric Association’s 1994 Clinical Practice Guidelines on Comprehensive Adult Eye and Vision Examination reports: “Of all the sensory information relayed to the brain, four-fifths is visual in origin.”