Vision therapy activities are used by Behavioural Optometrists around the world to help children develop their visual skills. The aim is not so much to perform certain tasks in an office, but rather to help the child with learning disabilities or visual dysfunction and to aid them as they learn and develop through their schooling.
The big question is, “Do vision therapy activities actually work?”
What are the Vision Therapy Activities?
Concerned parents are always looking for ways to help their children, especially if their child is struggling at school. Yet many so-called experts debate the effectiveness of vision therapy activities, without knowing what these activities actually entail!
As a behavioural optometrist for over 25 years, I have successfully used vision therapy activities to modify both the measurable visual performance of children and also their performance in the classroom. However, I recognize that some activities suggested by optometrists hold little value for improving the school performance of children, even if they change our measurements.
Claiming that therapy activities do not work is like claiming piano lessons don’t work! We should not write off the entire profession because somebody did vision therapy activities and did not get a result. I failed my piano lessons, yet clearly they seem to have worked for Billy Joel!
Why Most Vision Therapy Activities Cannot Fail!
There are definitely types of activities that cannot fail, and these are similar to guitar or piano lessons in that they teach children the skills they need to perform well in school. What skills am I talking about?
I use vision therapy to train skills like eye movements and tracking, eye coordination and focus, visual memory for spelling, directionality for letter reversals and well known skills like sequencing, coding, etc. These are used every day by people as they learn, and if they are underdeveloped for any reason, they the child is likely to suffer a learning disability.
These skills are developed naturally by school and learning activities over time, but what happens if they do not develop until Grade 8? You have a child who might be very bright verbally but cannot read, write or spell very well. They most often don’t have dyslexia or brain damage, they most often have simply failed to develop the skills they need to do the job properly.
Activities which concentrate on the visual skills every person in every culture uses to learn and read will definitely help a child with learning disabilities. In fact, they simply cannot miss!
Vision therapies which focus on developing these essential visual skills almost always see improvement in a child’s learning ability. In the same way that piano lessons will improve both a novice player and an expert, getting these skills right can have a major effect on a child’s ability to learn.
The great thing is that developing these skills is fun and enjoyable for the child! I have produced activities which kids love doing, find challenging yet not overwhelming and have a fantastic success rate for helping children with learning difficulties. They’re not weird, not boring and take around 6 months to help a child reach their full potential. They don’t teach a child reading, but they provide the skills that child needs to be taught reading quickly and effectively.
Those which focus on developing the needed skills can be a powerful tool for helping your child learn more effectively.
Can Home Vision Therapy Help Learning Disabilities?
Vision therapy is becoming a popular way of helping children with learning disabilities. The main problem with them is that they are prescribed by behavioural optometrists and are often very expensive (sometimes thousands of dollars). They also often involve multiple and frequent trips to the optometrist to use sophisticated equipment. Some simple activities are done at home, but questions are often raised about the effectiveness of home based therapies.
The Advantage of Home Therapies
I believe that home based therapy has several clear advantages over the in-office style. Firstly, they can be done at any hour of the day or night, in any place in the world and do not require trips to the optometrist. Secondly, they can be a lot less expensive because the valuable time of the optometrist or their assistants is not being used on a weekly basis.
But are they as effective as in office activities?
In some areas clearly they cannot be as effective because the advanced equipment is not available in your home. This is especially true for complicated eye conditions such as turned eyes or lazy eyes. That being said, a simpler task performed every day is frequently more successful than a visit once or twice a week to an expert’s office.
The fact is that some therapies, notably those which help learning disabilities, can be easily and successfully done at home by parents, while others require greater expertise or equipment and should only be attempted by a behavioural optometrist.
So What Does Work at Home?
Some activities are extremely effective as home therapies, especially when it comes to learning disabilities and problems. Tracking for example, which helps a child to move across a page correctly and not misread words or skip lines, is easily trained using home based techniques. Visualization for spelling is another, as is directional training (to stop letter reversals), coding, sequencing and even focus and eye coordination.
As a behavioural optometrist myself, I have been effectively using these home based vision therapy activities to help children with learning disabilities for years and with the rise of the internet their effectiveness has become greater.
In my program I have utilized automatic emails to keep parents on track and gently “nag” them into keeping up their schedule of therapies. This has been very successful and can be reset at any time, helping to keep parents on track and children doing enough vision therapy activities to have a positive effect on their school performance. Again, doing a lesser activity every day is often more effective that a complex one weekly.
When it comes to children with learning disabilities, a home based series of vision therapy activities is one of the most effective ways of helping because parents can do the therapies daily and at any time that works for them and their family. Using the right activities more often can train the skills that a child needs to perform better in school, and I prove this with my patients on a daily basis!
When it comes to developing visual skills for learning, home based vision therapy activities are among the most effective tools I know for helping children with learning disabilities.