Vision Therapy - What it is and why it matters

Updated: Feb 20

Vision Therapy is a series of activities designed to improve eye muscle control, which in turn helps children better understand what they are reading and seeing. Therapy is often conducted over a period of 8-12 weeks or longer with in-office visits and crucial 15-20 minute daily home exercises, some of which involve computer programs.


Vision Therapy aims to:

  • Treat existing problems such as lazy eye (amblyopia), eye alignment or coordination problems, focusing difficulties, poor eye-hand coordination and lower than expected visual thinking and understanding

  • Enhance eye muscle efficiency and improve visual comfort


Why is good vision important for learning?


Good vision is vital for learning, especially in the classroom.


Still, one in five children have an undetected vision problem. Research has shown that up to age 12, 80 per cent of learning is done through interpreting what is seen (visual processing). Children are required to see quickly and understand what is being taught in the classroom at a range of distances – on the desk, computer and board. And they are required to do this repeatedly for prolonged periods of time. Therefore, it is important to detect and treat learning-related vision problems early in order for children not to fall behind.


There are many learning problems, but a common one for optometry involves a child with a “reading problem.”

What is the nature of this reading problem? Are they having trouble learning to read, or instead, are they having difficulty focusing on the words? Can they not read for long because they have a short attention span, or instead, because there is too much strain placed on their eyes?


An optometrist can help answer questions like these by diagnosing and treating vision problems that are the cause of the “reading problem”.


Signs of vision problems

Good vision involves more than good eyesight. Good vision means having efficient scanning, focusing and visual coordination skills for reading and learning in the classroom. While children may have good distance eyesight, they may have great difficulty maintaining good near vision when reading and writing leading to:

  • Avoidance of near visual tasks

  • Perseverance but with decreased understanding

  • Discomfort, fatigue, and reduced attention span

  • Development of myopia (shortsightedness) or suppression of the vision of one eye


Checklist

A comprehensive eye test is encouraged if a child is described as “doing poorly in school,” “failing,” “not working up to potential,” “diagnosed as learning disabled,” “disliking school work,” or “having a school problem” or routinely shows any of the following signs:


Physical signs & symptoms

  • Excessive blinking or rubbing of eyes with near tasks

  • Squints or covers one eye with near work

  • Poor/slumped near work posture

  • Headaches, burning or itching eyes after near tasks

  • Uses head rather than eye movements for reading

  • Reduced attention span, fatigues easily with near tasks

  • Double or blurred vision

Working habits

  • Close working distance to a book (only 15-20 cms away)

  • Loses place when moving gaze e.g. desk to board, copying from textbooks

  • Uses aides e.g. a ruler/marker /finger to keep place when reading

  • Comprehension declines as reading continues

  • Student fails to visualize (cannot describe read information)

Work quality

  • Irregular letter/word spacing and writes up/downhill

  • Makes letter/word reversals e.g. b for d, saw for was

  • Misaligns digits in columns of numbers

  • Frequently re-reads or skips words/lines unknowingly

  • Unable to recognise the same word in the next sentence


Is Vision Therapy suitable for your child?

Your optometrist can help determine your child’s suitability for Vision Therapy, and prescribe personalised activities depending on each child’s needs and potential outlook. In some cases, “support lenses” are prescribed to help a child perform better without stressing the eyes.


By eliminating visual problems, Vision Therapy can help make reading more enjoyable. It can also help improve physical coordination, self-confidence, school grades and longer attention span for children.


Vanessa Thai is a registered optometrist and is available through Southside Family Health Centre.

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