Fact-checking “Vision Therapy” as a Treatment for Learning Disabilities

Photo by: snicketyone

Ian article this spring, the New York Times took a rather wary look at the burgeoning field of “vision therapy,” whose adherents, the paper reported, claim it can successfully treat a range of disorders in children including “reading problems, learning problems, spelling problems, attention problems, hyperactivity and coordination problems.”

Vision therapy is practiced by “behavioral optometrists,” who are termed in the article as “part of a growing subspecialty of optometry that takes the traditional practice beyond its usual focus on eye health and eyesight.”

The treatment regimen associated with vision therapy can seem unorthodox, to say the least. According to the Times reporter, a visitor to a vision therapy center “might see children standing in hula hoops, dodging balls suspended from strings, looking through prisms that give them double vision and then trying to fuse the image, playing Wii-like games for balance and ‘visual thinking’ or pointing to bright spots blinking on a light box for hand-eye coordination.”

A recent Google search on the term “vision therapy” yielded 235,000 hits leading to sites that promise “special programs for learning related visual problems,” to “boost reading comprehension scores” and to “help ADD.”

The treatment is naturally attractive to the parents of children having trouble in school, who frustrate easily, are poorly motivated or have other learning or behavioral issues. A diagnosis of a vision problem may be easier to accept than one of dyslexia or ADD—and also offer the promise of being easier to treat and manage. And, indeed, the Times article includes interviews with several parents who say they are extremely pleased with the results their children seem to have obtained from vision therapy.

But despite the anecdotal evidence supporting it, my colleagues in the American College of Ophthalmology do not consider vision therapy effective for treating learning disorders and other related problems. And they are supported in this view by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus and the American Association of Certified Orthoptists (AACO).

Last year those organizations put out a joint statement that said in no uncertain terms, “There is no valid evidence that children participating in vision therapy are more responsive to educational instruction than children who do not participate.”

The groups advise that “children with learning disabilities should receive individualized, evidence-based educational interventions combined with psychological and medical treatments as needed.”

By all means, have your child’s eyes examined and follow your eye physician’s advice regarding any necessary corrections and treatment. But please be very careful before you place your confidence in vision therapy to cure a learning disability or behavioral problem.

2 thoughts on “Fact-checking “Vision Therapy” as a Treatment for Learning Disabilities

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>