What is Vision Therapy?

Vision training/therapy (VT) is a subspecialty of optometry that strives to improve, enhance and/or develop visual performance through a prescribed treatment program that is designed to literally build new neural patterns.

A good vision therapy program uses Learning Theory to arrange conditions that optimizes the opportunity to learn new skills (build new schemes) and works within a framework of developmental hierarchies. It is important for a patient to self discover through the exercises prescribed in order to derive meaning and form a foundation that they can use in familiar, as well as new visual situations.

Patients learn to use their visual abilities in new or more efficient ways by participating in various vision exercises that utilize the use of lenses, prisms, filters, patches and other materials and equipment. Exercises are designed to bring a skill or set of skills to conscious awareness, practice using those skills to mastery so they become automatic.

Vision therapy is similar to physical therapy. In physical therapy, you relearn or enhance the use of various muscles and body parts that are not functioning correctly and/or causing a great deal of discomfort so that you can use those parts more efficiently. In occupational therapy, which strives to restore, reinforce and enhance performance, they are also based on the priniciple of brain plasticity, where you are able to enhance brain and body function through exercises. In fact, there are crossovers between occupational therapy and vision therapy, particularly in the area of visual perception, eye-hand coordination and visual motor intergration, though occupational therapists do not receive near the depth of training in vision nor are they trained in the use of lenses, prism and filters. Vision is a sensory-motor set of systems, so many times if a patient has difficulty with sensory integration, it is co-managed with occupational therapists.

In vision therapy, individuals relearn or enhance the use of different brain (or thought) processes to alleviate visual discomfort and use visual skills more efficiently. This is possible because vision is a learned process and eyes are actually modified brain tissue.

The overall goal is to alleviate signs and symptoms of vision problems, maximize visual and overall performance and comfort, meet the patient's needs and improve the patient's quality of life.

Vision therapy is commonly used for (but not limited to) the following:

  • Accommodative dysfunctions
  • Ocular motor dysfunctions
  • Visual motor disorders
  • Visual perceptual disorders
  • Learning related visual problems
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Sports vision
  • Strabismus
  • Amblyopia
  • Myopia control

For more information about visual skills, click here.

Who Can Benefit From Vision Therapy?

Anybody at any age who has been determined to have a visual problem or variable visual performance. Many children who are diagnosed with learning disabilities, reading, spelling or writing problems, ADD/ADHD, on the autism spectrum and developmentally delayed (to name a few) have a 70-80% chance of having a vision problem significant enough to affect their performance.

Vision therapy is not limited to young children.

Patients of ALL ages can benefit from vision therapy. Even many professional athletes use vision therapy to speed their visual reaction times and improve hand-eye coordination. Computer users who notice they are experiencing eye strain can potentially benefit from vision therapy to reduce discomfort. Mature adults that have suffered strokes or adults that have been in car accidents and suffered head trauma can benefit from vision therapy.

What is involved in Vision Therapy?

Vision therapy is definitely not a quick fix, but a lifetime correction. No matter how old you are when you begin treatment, remember it took a lifetime to get there. Just like physical and occupational therapy, vision therapy can be hard work. Commitment and consistency to a vision therapy program is vital to the individual's overall success.

Vision therapy involves in office sessions with the doctor or vision therapist, and, typically, home activities. All activities are designed to reinforce and eventually establish new visual skills or enhanced previously learned visual skills.

Vision therapy can take anywhere from 6 weeks to a year or more before vision problems are remediated. Many problems can be improved dramatically over 10-15 weekly sessions (session length is determined by your doctor and may vary). Certain dysfunctions, like strabismus, traumatic brain injury, significant developmental delays or severe perceptual problems, can take the longest to treat. Average length of vision therapy is 4-6 months.

Between weekly office sessions (number of times prescribed in a week vary by doctor and condition) there are often daily homework assignments. These homework sessions generally take between 15-30 minutes and should be done 4-5 times each week, though again this will be decided by your doctor or vision therapist. The homework is often fun and entertaining, but will also be challenging. It is imperative that the home activities assigned be mastered to ingrain the new skills and to continue progress at a good rate . Motivation and positive reinforcement is very important. Parents and teachers that participate and encourage a child will increase the degree of success immensely! It is also essential to be carefully guided by a trained professional, because visual habits that are learned incorrectly can be reinforced by practicing them.

Vision therapy will not cure everything, but it can be a tremendously rewarding therapy for many individuals. To hear from some people that have benefited from vision therapy, please click here to read their stories.

The benefit of vision therapy for individuals that suffered from vision problems is a lifelong change in overall performance, comfort and quality of life.

For those scientifically minded, check out the following journal article "The Scientific Basis for and Efficacy of Optometric Vision Ttherapy in Nonstrabismic
Accommodative and Vergence Disorders" by clicking here.




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