Vision therapy aims to correct problems with vision that can affect reading and learning. Supporters think of it as physical therapy for the eyes and brain. But critics say vision therapy is not an effective way to treat dyslexia and other learning and attention issues.
What Vision Therapy Is
Vision therapy is a type of eye training intended to correct vision problems that can interfere with reading and learning. Practitioners say that wearing glasses or contact lenses may help kids see clearly, but it doesn’t treat underlying issues with the way their brains take in visual information. Advocates of vision therapy claim that eye exercises can correct problems with visual processing.
Who Vision Therapy Is For
Supporters of vision therapy say that it can help with several learning and attention issues. These include ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia.
How Vision Therapy Works
Vision therapy starts with a complete eye exam. This is different from eye exams given in schools, which test mainly for distance vision. A complete exam tests factors like visual acuity, which is the term for sharpness or clarity of vision. The exam also looks for lazy eye (amblyopia) and other problems such as convergence insufficiency (CI) that can affect the eyes’ ability to focus on a nearby object.
After the eye exam, a vision therapy plan is created that may include the following activities:
- Wearing an eye patch during part of the therapy session
- Looking through prisms
- Doing letter-finding puzzles
- Wearing tinted glasses or placing tinted plastic over reading material
Visual therapy sessions usually last an hour and take place once or twice a week. Depending on the child’s issues, therapy may be recommended for three months to a year. The therapist may also prescribe eye exercises the child can do at home with the parents’ supervision.
Who Provides Vision Therapy
Optometrists may prescribe some types of eye exercises to treat CI and other eye conditions. But be wary of practitioners who claim that vision therapy can treat some learning and attention issues. Treating vision problems can make reading more comfortable, but it won’t make it any easier to decode or “sound out” the letters.
What to Watch Out For
Several highly regarded organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Ophthalmology, issued a joint statement on vision therapy. The joint statement says scientific evidence does not support vision therapy as a treatment for dyslexia and other learning and attention issues. The statement notes that research doesn’t validate vision therapy as a proven therapy for learning and attention issues.
It’s true that untreated vision problems such as CI can affect a child’s ability to read and learn. However, vision problems are not the cause of dyslexia and other learning and attention issues. Dyslexia affects the brain’s ability to sound out letters, not the ability to see them.
If you’re concerned about your child’s reading, start by seeing an ophthalmologist or optometrist for a complete eye exam. If you suspect your child may have learning and attention issues, talk to your child’s school or doctor about getting a comprehensive evaluation. Finally, if you decide to pursue vision therapy as a treatment for learning and attention issues, keep it mind that it can be expensive. Your health insurance provider also may not cover vision therapy.
The Bottom Line
Some parents and educators say they’ve seen vision therapy help kids. But there still is no solid evidence that it is effective for kids with learning and attention issues.