Developmental (or behavioral) optometry is an expanded area of optometric practice. Specialists in this field test for specific visual skills that are often related to learning.
Over the last century, our dependence on near-vision has increased tremendously as a result of the time spent with computers, television, and video games. It is estimated that students today read about three times as many textbooks as they did 50 years ago. This increased use of near-vision has placed additional strain on the eyes, and some experts suggest that vision difficulties have consequently increased.
Schools often screen for vision with a Snellen chart or telebinocular instrument. The familiar Snellen eye chart does not diagnose focusing skills, depth perception, eye movement, or visual perception. Telebinocular screening does not provide information on visual perception, focusing skills or eye movements. Even a student with 20/20 vision can experience headaches, eyestrain, or fatigue as a result of a problem focusing both eyes. This can affect the student’s comprehension, ability to pay attention in class, and overall school performance.
Recognizing the difference between acuity problems and vision problems is important. Underachievers often have average or better standard acuity yet are faced with unrecognized visual difficulties.
Vision therapy is a clinical approach to correcting eye movement disorders, non-strabismic binocular dysfunction, focusing disorders, amblyopia, nystagmus, and certain visual perceptual disorders. A series of treatments is usually involved, based on the nature and severity of the problem. (A misconception exists that the only purpose of visual therapy is to strengthen the eye muscles.)
Signs of vision problems
Teachers are in a good position to observe reading habits. Parents who suspect vision problems in their child should ask teachers if they notice signs of difficulty during class. These are just some of many possible indicators of eye problems that might respond to vision therapy:
- Holds book too far or too close
- Squints eyes or opens them wide
- Places one hand over an eye
- Blinks or rubs eyes frequently
- Loses place when copying from paper
- Has problems copying from the board
- Runs words together
- When writing
- Has difficulty keeping math columns straight
- Skips words or lines; needs a marker when reading
- Complains that text is too bright
- Complains that letters blur or move on page
Treatment can range from a simple eye patch, as part of amblyopia therapy, to complex infrared sensory devices and computers that monitor eye position and provide feedback to the patient. Medical insurance, which sometimes does not cover eyeglasses, often covers visual training under the category of physical therapy. Vision therapists may prescribe stress-relieving and preventive lenses along with visual training. Not all optometrists practice behavioral optometry.
More information: Optometric Extension Program Foundation