What is Vision Therapy, and Is It Right for My Child?

Young child wearing an eye patch while undergoing vision therapyDid you know that each August marks Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month in the USA? Our friends at the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) have set this time aside to raise awareness and arm parents with knowledge about the risk factors their growing kids face so that they can make informed choices about their children’s eye care. Many common childhood eye conditions, including strabismus, amblyopia, and more subtle eye alignment problems and focusing disorders, can benefit from vision therapy techniques.

In our recent article about amblyopia (aka lazy eye), for instance, we touched on vision therapy and the use of eye patches as a treatment option. However, every child’s visual system and experience with eye health and vision issues are unique.

Today’s blog post seeks to give parents and caregivers a little more information about optometric vision therapy for kids. This post will also remind you how important it is for children to visit a pediatric ophthalmologist or doctor of optometry to ensure their good eye health. Especially with screen overuse becoming such a pervasive problem—which can easily aggravate existing issues like strabismus or a binocular vision deficit—regular visits to an experienced eye doctor are perhaps more critical now than ever before.

Vision Therapy for Kids: A Somewhat Controversial Topic

Vision therapy for kids—aka VT, eye vision therapy, vision therapy training, or visual training—is many things. It is doctor-supervised and customized with an array of visual tools and activities that can improve and even correct some specific vision problems.

Vision therapy is a non-surgical approach that All About Vision likens to physical therapy for the entire visual system.” In the way that traditional physical therapy aims to strengthen the muscles of the body and teach them new skills to promote healing and more, vision therapy is designed to help strengthen the visual system, which may correct problems.

Unfortunately, vision therapy for kids is a bit of a controversial topic.

Why? Because it requires a lot of effort to be effective, and so some eye doctors are not convinced it works—especially in situations where surgical procedures can offer a quick fix. Indeed, vision therapy represents a therapeutic process that requires the active engagement of doctor, pediatric patient, and that patient’s parents or caregivers.

When Vision Therapy is Prescribed

If a parent is nervous about having their child undergo surgery for strabismus or amblyopia, vision therapy can be a useful treatment that is more conservative. Depending on the severity of a child’s condition, avoiding surgery may not be an option, but vision therapy can be an excellent place to start.

For kids with accommodative or focusing disorders, vision therapy has shown itself to be particularly helpful in many cases. Instead of merely relying on eyeglasses to compensate for focusing problems, young children’s eyes may be trained to develop better near-far focusing skills.

Vision Therapy is Not the Same Thing as “Eye Exercises”

Another reason why vision therapy is sometimes considered controversial is that people confuse it with the so-called “medically proven” self-help eye exercise programs that occasionally become trendy. We dedicated an entire previous blog post to the truth about eye exercises, showing how these “throw out your glasses” programs can actually be harmful. They are absolutely not the same thing as vision therapy prescribed by an experienced eye care professional.

Vision therapy, while controversial, has some scientific backing that self-help eye exercises do not. Vision therapy also never claims to be able to change the shape or structure of your eyes, as that is impossible.

What About Kids and Screen Overuse? Will My Child Need Vision Therapy?

kids playing on a cellphoneWith schools requiring more remote learning due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic and many adults working from home, everyone has been spending much more time on their computers, iPads, and even mobile phone screens. This increase in so-called “near work activities” is perhaps most unnatural for children, who typically attend school in person for at least part of each day and are not always in front of a screen during those hours.

Screen use increases have created a lot of worry among parents, which is not entirely unfounded. However, our own Dr. Andrews here at Campus Eye Center suggests that practicing better “visual hygiene” to prevent eye strain and headaches may be all that is needed to help most kids cope with screen overuse.

Dr. Andrews tells all of her pediatric patients to have their parents set a timer for 20 minutes when they are doing their schoolwork virtually or reading a great book that they can’t get enough of. When the timer goes off, they have to physically get up and take a walk around the room. This will help them avoid suffering the effects of digital eye strain, which include dry eye, headaches, and blurry vision.

Trust the Caring Doctors at Campus Eye Center for Your Child’s Eye Healthcare Needs

If you’re wondering whether vision therapy could be a solution to any eye health issues your child is experiencing, or you simply want to give your child the visual tools necessary to learn better in school this year, it’s time to make an appointment for an optometric evaluation.

Here in the Lancaster, PA area, Campus Eye Center leads the way in children’s eye care. Our team of experienced board-certified MDs, ophthalmologists, and doctors of optometry work hard to provide an excellent continuum of care from routine eye exams to advanced treatment options and surgical procedures. Contact us today to schedule your or your child’s next routine eye exam!