Why Vision Therapy?

As some of you may know, the subject of vision therapy is somewhat controversial. Many feel it works, others don’t believe in it, and there are several who have never even heard of it. My husband and I have been asked why we chose to pursue vision therapy for our daughter. To truly understand why we chose vision therapy, I need to share with you the experiences we had that lead us here:

Our daughter has always been a very intelligent and curious child. As a newborn, she was following the sound of my voice almost immediately and made eye contact very early. The doctor and nurses at the hospital where she was born commented about how unusually alert she was. Her speech developed earlier than most; she was (and continues to be) quite a chatterbox. Her enthusiasm for learning was wonderful and we offered every opportunity to inspire her.

Learning by Doing

Learning by Doing (Photo credit: BrianCSmith)

When my daughter started preschool she took to it like a fish to water. Singing songs, playing games, making friends; she loved it all. She knew her alphabet, could count to ten and had a great memory for events that happened during her day. Painting was a favourite activity, coloring and learning to print her letters was not. She loved being read to, and enjoyed looking at pictures in books, but had no interest in learning sight words. Her preschool teacher assured me that she was still very young, and that my daughter would let us know when she was ready to learn. I was concerned, but decided to wait and see. She’d had her eyes and hearing checked and all was well, so perhaps her teacher was right, it was simply a matter of maturity.

At age 3.75 my daughter began junior kindergarten. Her love of learning continued, and while she was beginning to print her letters, she didn’t enjoy it. Coloring was better, but she still preferred painting as it allowed her to be more abstract, versus having to try and color between the lines. Her teacher was able to encourage her to sit and read books together, and eventually my daughter began to retain some sight words. Her teacher wasn’t concerned. She said our daughter was progressing in the right direction, and the rest would come in time.

Fortunately, my daughter had the same teacher when she started senior kindergarten the following year. Again, her enthusiasm for learning continued. Her printing had improved, although she still tired easily when writing. She loved to color and draw pictures, provided she could do the drawing. (She really didn’t like having to stay between the lines on coloring sheets.) By the end of senior kindergarten she was reading at grade level, adapting well socially, printing; her teacher didn’t have any concerns about my daughter moving on to first grade. I felt we had turned a corner, and perhaps I’d over reacted and everyone was right, she was just young (being a December baby, our daughter is younger than the majority of her peers).

First grade started well, and despite two months off for summer vacation, my daughter was still reading at grade level. (No summer learning loss.) Her teacher expressed concern about how hard she had to work at reading, but felt “it would come eventually” as our daughter was young, but she was progressing in the right direction. The transition to first grade was sometimes challenging, but I had been told that this wasn’t unusual for first graders.

Our daughter’s first grade teacher said she was a very bright child, eager to learn, but was easily distracted and she needed to work harder to focus. We needed to practice her reading, support her in creative writing and encourage her to work more independently. I was concerned, but we forged ahead. I thought we had to keep practicing and eventually we’d turn that corner and things would become a little easier for our daughter.

As I mentioned in my introduction to this blog, it was during the second week of grade two when – following a discussion with her teacher who expressed concern about our daughter’s difficulty with copying from the board – that I decided to follow my instincts and get to the bottom of what was happening. Six and seven year olds shouldn’t have to work as hard as my daughter was to get through school. At the rate she was going, she’d burn out by fourth grade! She was already beginning to shut down in class, the signs were there: incomplete class work, poor attention span and she no longer participated in class discussions?! She needed more help than my husband and I knew how to give her.

Learning

(Credit: CollegeDegrees360)

The College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD) has a wealth of information specific to visual development. One of their articles entitled “Reading, Writing & Vision” very clearly outlines the connection between vision and reading. Specifically they state:

“When we read, we need to:

o aim two eyes at the same point simultaneously and accurately,
o focus both eyes to make the reading material clear,
o continue or sustain clear focus, and
o move two eyes continually as a coordinated team across the line of print.

When we move our eyes to the next line of print, we continue with the process”.

My daughter’s eyes aren’t able to do that for longer than a brief period. No wonder she was struggling while reading!

The article goes on to describe the connection between visual development and reading comprehension,

“In order to gain comprehension throughout the reading process, we are constantly taking in the visual information and decoding it from the written word into a mental image. Memory and visualization are also used to constantly relate the information to what is already known and to help make sense of what is being read.”

Another area of struggle for our daughter included writing. Other than perhaps not being able to see the line she was writing on very clearly, I wasn’t sure of the exact connection between her vision and writing until I read the following in “Reading, Writing & Vision”:

“Writing is similar, but almost works in the reverse order to reading. We start with an image in our mind and code it into words. At the same time, we control the movement of the pencil while continually working to keep the written material making sense. Throughout all this, we focus our eyes and move them together just as in the reading process.

Complicated visual procedures are involved in both reading and writing. A problem with any or all of the visual parts of the processes described above can present difficulties in some way with reading and/or writing.”

Another article I read, “Learning Related Visual Problems Overview” also by the College of Optometrists in Vision Development, rang true with me. Especially when I read the following:

As vision and learning are intimately connected, a vision problem can be easily mistaken for a learning problem. Youngsters with visual problems can be misdiagnosed as having Learning Disabilities, ADHD, or Dyslexia. There are various reasons for this misdiagnosis. For example, children who have learning-related visual problems cannot sustain their close work at school. They may be misdiagnosed as ADHD because children with ADHD also can’t sustain attention on their work. Same behaviors, different diagnosis.”

“Same behaviours, different diagnosis.” I have used that line when trying to describe our daughter’s situation to others including her teachers when they mentioned her seemingly short attention span for in-class assignments and independent work.

And finally, I came across an article on the COVD’s “Research & White Paper” page entitled, “The Latest Research on Convergence Insufficiency” outlining the findings of a 2008 research study known as the Convergence Insufficiency Treatment Trial (CITT) by Dr. Mitchell Scheiman, FOCVD:

“The CITT found that approximately 75 percent of those who received in-office therapy by a trained therapist plus at-home treatment reported fewer and less severe symptoms related to reading and other near work after the office-based vision therapy.”

In answer to the question of why we chose Vision Therapy, our answer is because it works, and if there’s an effective treatment that could help our daughter pursue her love of learning more easily, and helps her feel less frustrated at school, then my husband and I feel that we owe it to her to try. And at 12 weeks into a 40-week program, we’re already seeing subtle signs of its effectiveness.