Vision therapy Ask the Experts

May 10, 1998

Q. My husband and I read with interest one of the questions posed by a reader about visual skills. Our child has also been diagnosed with "visual-perceptual problems," but we have so far only been able to obtain advice on how to cope with the problem or avoid it by using verbal reading and taped stories, not on how to eliminate it. We have heard wonderful stories about children who have been helped through vision therapy. What is it? How can we tell if our child would benefit from it and where to we go to obtain it?

A. Vision therapy is an individually designed set of procedures arranged so that a child or adult must develop a visual capacity or improve a visual skill to succeed at a task. Vision therapy programs are designed after a diagnosis based on a developmental vision evaluation performed by a vision therapy expert. A developmental vision exam is required to discover if a vision disorder is interfering with learning.

Vision problems are often called the "hidden disability" because children do not complain. They assume that the way they see is normal. Behavioral signs include tracking problems (skipping words, rereading lines, use of the finger or head movement to help track); eye-teaming disorders (omitting words or phrases, losing one's place when moving from the end of one line to the beginning of another, head tilting), and lags in vision development (mistaking words with similar beginnings or endings, failure to recognize a "known" word, letter or number reversals, whispering to oneself while reading, spell-ing words the way they sound rather than the way they look, and understanding stories read aloud, but not when read silently.)

Do not confuse "vision" with "sight." Sight is the ability to see clearly and glasses often provide remedies. Vision is the process by which we understand what we see, by which we make sense out of printed symbols.

Vision therapy is successful when a vision disorder interferes with learning. If the problem is a language disorder or an emotional disorder, results will not be as successful.

To get help, call a vision-care practitioner and get an unqualified "yes" to these questions:

* Do you currently provide vision therapy in your office?

* Do you perform tests to determine if a person's vision problem is related to his or her learning methods and school demands?

* Will you be able to communicate to me your findings and how they relate to learning?

* Do you perform tests to rule out disorders within other learning systems that my child may be using?

* May I watch my child's evaluation?

* May I visit a vision therapy session?

- Ronald M. Bergeris is an optometrist in private practice in Columbia who specializes in developmental vision, and is a member of a international board of examiners that certifies doctors in vision therapy.

Pub Date: 5/10/98

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