When it Comes to Your Child’s Vision, It’s Not Just About 20/20 | by
Your child has good vision. Still, for some reason, your child (who has no cognitive impairments) has trouble focusing and gets fatigued while trying to read or doing close-up work. Your child may close or cover one eye, frequently lose their place while reading or skip or repeat lines of text. In gym, your child struggles to catch a ball and has poor hand-eye coordination.
These are just a few of the scenarios that vision therapists and developmental optometrists like Dr. Lynn Hellerstein encounter with children each day. “Vision therapy can correct these types of visual-motor or visual-processing deficiencies,” she says.
Hellerstein, of Greenwood Village-based Hellerstein and Brenner Vision Center P.C., is a third-generation optometrist who admits that, even as a good student, she liked to read but had trouble with text-heavy books. The print would blur, and her eyes would start to close after just 10 minutes. Years later, she had vision therapy and her reading improved. Fortunately, her love of math and science, and a new understanding of vision therapy, led her to the 40-year career for which she’s well known today.
Even though vision therapy dates back to the 1920s, there were very few vision therapy practices in Colorado when Hellerstein graduated from optometry school in 1977. “We have expanded the field, increased education regarding vision and learning, and successfully treated thousands of patients over the past 40-plus years,” she says.
Hellerstein and a team of vision therapists provide individualized, supervised vision therapy sessions. They offer exercises designed to enhance the brain’s ability to control eye alignment, eye tracking, eye movements, focusing abilities and visual processing. “Eighty percent of learning is visual,” Hellerstein says, “and visual pathways account for more than 50% of the brain’s pathways.”
In addition to more traditional vision measurement, one of the tools the clinic uses to assess a child’s visual acuity is a technological game. A child uses their eyes to destroy asteroids on a screen that tracks eye movement. Children also use a computerized instrument on a big-screen TV to improve eye-hand coordination and speed-of-motor response.
As can be expected, vision problems greatly affect a child’s school success. And that, Hellerstein says, can result in a child not pursuing their dreams. “Even with the intelligence to succeed, a lack of strong visual skills that help comprehension and learning can result in repeated failure, which of course can lead to low self-esteem.” She expands on this philosophy in her award-winning book, See It. Say It. Do It! The Parent’s & Teacher’s Action Guide to Creating Successful Students & Confident Kids.
Kimberly Ash, a school principal in Littleton whose son has dyslexia, learned of Hellerstein’s clinic from a school occupational therapist. “The developmental optometric exam showed that his eyes weren’t tracking. They were bouncing all around,” Ash says. Testing on the Visagraph, an infrared eye-tracking instrument, indicated a very inconsistent, irregular eye movement pattern.
“Optometric vision therapy improved the accuracy and efficiency of his tracking, so he reads in groups of words rather than one word at a time,” Ash says. In addition, her son’s athletic performance, especially in basketball, improved. He can also catch a small object, such as a coin, with one hand now instead of two.
Ash’s son goes to visual therapy once a week and does at-home exercises to strengthen eye muscles (like calisthenics for the eyes). The exercises train his eyes to track naturally from left to right on the page and to stay on one line of text. He attends a school that specializes in helping kids on the dyslexia spectrum.
“People are paying more attention to dyslexia these days,” Ash says. “There’s no cure for dyslexia, so these kids need a reading program that’s scientifically based—a multisensory approach to reading instruction. Vision therapy is a vital piece of that.”
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