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What is Vision Therapy/Visual Training?

Many people suffer with undiagnosed vision conditions.  Sometimes these problems cause symptoms like headaches, dry eyes, tired eyes, etc.  In some cases, vision problems don’t cause obvious symptoms, but are reducing comfort, productivity and/or stamina in ways that do not obviously point to the eyes or the visual system as the cause.  All of these situations demand the attention of a behavioral optometrist who understands the development and function of the visual process.  One reason so many people have undiagnosed visual conditions is that most eye care professionals are not inclined to think in terms of visual function other than the ability to see clearly.  Behavioral optometrists can diagnose even the most subtle visual problem and recommend various treatment options.  The most common and most clinically proven options for these kinds of problems is vision therapy.  Therapeutic lenses are also useful in providing help and relief in most of situations described above.

Vision therapy is a program for actively training the visual process to develop new strategies.  Vision therapy, provided by a behavioral optometrist, should include the therapeutic use of lenses.  Vision therapy is not eye exercises.  Eyes do not need to exercise.  Even obvious eye teaming problems, those where you see someone who has one eye that appears not to be aiming with the other eye, are rarely muscle problems.  Most visual difficulty results from an inability in the brain, not the eyes.  The primary purpose of vision therapy is to help the brain learn how to use the eyes more effectively.  Vision therapy, at its best is a program that involves the brain and movement of the body.  This promotes continued development of the visual process, which is necessary for us to keep up with the changing demands we all face over the course of our lives.  This article provides a brief description of who may benefit from vision therapy and what is involved in a typical vision therapy program.

vision therapy visual training behavioral optometryVision therapy, also known as visual training, is a program of activities that help a person engage in, observe, learn about, and change the way they are using their visual process. Although vision therapy is often referred to as “eye exercises” vision therapy is much more than that.  It is possible to retrain the brain with vision therapy by setting up the proper conditions, and using the appropriate language, equipment, and perhaps most important of all – lenses.  This is an important point.  The eyes and their supporting muscles can only do what the brain tells them to do.  When the visual process is not working properly it is because there is confusion in the brain.  That is, the brain is not processing visual information accurately.  This in turn causes errors in the output.  Vision is primarily a process involved with output. Output can consist of thought, relating information through spoken or written language or some other type of bodily movement.

  The primary purpose of the visual process is to direct action.

Of course we must first see with our eyes and get meaning from what we see. However, the most important step in this process is our response to this input. What do we do with what we’ve seen?  Can we answer questions about what we saw correctly?   Can we catch the ball coming toward us? Can we copy exactly what is on the board accurately and quickly?   Can we judge speeds and distances quickly and accurately while driving? All of these questions relate to visual output.  Vision therapy deals with all aspects of the visual process, especially output.

Vision therapy also enables a person to become more aware of the way they use the visual process as well as helping people to be more aware of their surroundings.  Improvement in these areas helps reduce stress, increase comfort and maximize performance.  A good vision therapy program also helps people, especially young people, to become more self-directed and self-motivated.  Vision therapy is process oriented, not product oriented.  Certainly the hope is that the end product is one that eliminates symptoms, improves visual information processing and provides a satisfactory resolution to the issues that led to the decision to pursue a vision therapy program.  However, the meat of the program itself is about the process of becoming more effective and efficient at carrying out visual tasks.

Vision therapy is a program of activities designed to improve visual development, comfort and performance. There are many conditions that consistently involve visual difficulties and respond well to vision therapy.  These include:

Difficulties in visual performance can lead to:

No matter what the cause, and no matter which of the above symptoms or complaints may be present, vision therapy can usually help.   Anyone experiencing one or more of the difficulties listed above is a candidate for vision therapy.   They should be properly evaluated by a behavioral optometrist, and in most cases can be helped.  A person begins a program of vision therapy in order to increase visual comfort, visual endurance, visual efficiency and/or to eliminate symptoms. Vision therapy may also be useful for people who want to stop wearing glasses, reduce the strength of their glasses or just want to improve their visual performance for school, work or sports.

Vision therapy is in part a process of self-discovery. Some of the discovery occurs by observing the performance of the various activities in the vision therapy room.  Some of the discoveries are more subtle and occur when you notice that something you have always done takes less effort than it did before and also gets done with a better result.  It is a non-invasive program exercises incorporating the mind, the body and the visual process.  Vision therapy is most successful when each session is designed and guided by an experienced behavioral optometrist.  It is also important that it be an individualized program of activities, utilizing lenses and prisms.  Many offices utilize therapists to carry out the vision therapy sessions.  Many of these therapists are well-trained and highly qualified, but I prefer to provide all therapy personally in my office because I feel that vision therapy is too important to delegate to an assistant, no matter how qualified.

The activities are designed to improve visual functioning in the areas of visual development, peripheral visual awareness, eye movements, focusing, eye teaming, eye-hand coordination, and visual acuity.  Some activities may emphasize a particular area of visual function, although most involve two or more areas simultaneously and many incorporate other modalities such as auditory processing, fine and gross motor, and/or general cognitive processing.  The more integrative the activity, the greater the impact it will have.  In reality, all aspects of the visual process are engaged any time you are doing any visual activity.  In fact, every activity involves the entire visual process and the entire person no matter how much one might try to isolate a particular aspect of the visual process during any given activity.

number tach vision therapy pegs vision therapy

Vision therapy is designed to set up conditions that enable a person to engage in visual activities while increasing their awareness of how they use the visual process.   Vision therapy provides feedback as to how smoothly and accurately (or not) a person is processing visual information and how well that processing directs the actions needed to complete a particular task.  Vision therapy is useful to improve the ability to process information more rapidly and accurately. This increases efficiency, comfort and endurance. It is also important to maximize flexibility of visual performance so that no matter what the situation, the visual process is able to do its job with the least amount of effort and the highest quality outcome.  The typical program consists of weekly in-office sessions utilizing lenses and movement.  There is almost always a therapeutic lens prescription given for home, school or work use in between vision therapy sessions in my office.  Vision therapy should almost always include the prescription of therapeutic lenses in my opinion.

Contact Dr. Gallop in Broomall, PA for more information about behavioral optometry, vision therapy or developmental lenses.

Dr. Gallop practices  in Delaware County at 7 Davis Avenue, Broomall, PA 19008; conveniently located for those in Ardmore, Bryn Mawr, Rosemont, Villanova, Radnor, Narberth, St. Davids, Wayne, Paoli, Devon, Berwyn, Newtown Square, Haverford, Havertown, West Chester and Philadelphia.

Resources

There are several organizations that can provide further information as well as help in finding behavioral optometrists in your area.

Optometric Extention Program Foundation  www.OEPF.org

College of Optometrists in Vision Development  www.COVD.org

Optometrists Network  www.optometrists.org