Note from Doni: I’m pleased to introduce Steve Goedert to you. I knew Steve first as a brother-in-law, then as my nephew’s father, my kids’ uncle, my optometrist, and now as my friend.
He’s a wealth of information about vision therapy, a field about which I knew very little. I trust you will find him as interesting, compassionate and captivating as I know him to be. Join me in welcoming Steve Goedert, our newest Q&A expert, to Food for Thought.
Dear Dr. Goedert, I know that my child is bright, but she struggles with reading and spelling. Her teacher suggested that she may have a vision problem and that vision therapy might help. What is vision therapy?
Perhaps the best way to answer your question is to tell you how I became interested in the role of vision in learning. I was trained in the medical model of eyesight. It’s not too different from the grade-school science concept of the eye as a camera. For example, the front part of the eye is the camera lens, the pupil is the aperture or shutter, and the back of the eye, the retina, is the film which picks up light from an image, takes a picture, and sends it to the brain.
That is a reasonably functional description of eye sight. The turning point for me, however, was the realization that 20/20 eyesight did not always result in maximum visual performance. During my first 10 years of practice as a classical optometrist, I observed many bright children who had 20/20 eyesight, yet still struggled in school. That observation led to 20 years of study in the field of behavioral optometry.
Imagine that the visual system incorporates brain tissue that meets the outside world in the form of our eyes. Our eyes, as sensory devices, send information to the visual cortex, influencing awareness of form and color, movement throughout space and time, informing our vestibular, endocrine and all other sensorimotor systems. On an anatomical basis, 80 percent of the afferent nerve fibers providing sensory input to our bodies are visual. Eyesight, ideally, is seeing an image clearly, while vision is the sensory integration and understanding of what you see. Vision determines how you respond to what you see. Blind people can have vision, but that’s a topic for another time.
The assumption is made that everyone with clear, 20/20 eyesight sees the same thing, but in truth, we are always learning, modifying and interpreting what we see. Because vision is learned, it is vulnerable to environmental and emotional stressors.
During the critical developmental years from birth to seven, one’s vision can be altered by either the presence or absence of adequate diet, learning opportunities, physical activity and emotional stress. When a child enters school, an experienced teacher can spot students who are compensating for poor visual perception. Teachers and parents may observe students avoiding close work, academic performance dropping off at the third to fourth grade, closing or covering one eye, headaches, fatigue with close work, poor visual memory (spelling, sequencing of tasks are affected) and/or eye-hand coordination. A behavioral eye exam that goes beyond 20/20 can rule out vision deficits. Over the past century, behavioral optometrists have developed activities to improve binocularity (the coordinated use of both eyes resulting in accurate depth perception), eye tracking and eye teaming (necessary for sustained attention to near work), visual memory, visualization and eye-hand coordination.
The activities involved in vision therapy are assigned to each individual based on his/her particular deficits. When these activities are applied to athletes whose visual systems are already operating with high efficiency, the process is called sports-vision training. Vision training clinics are now utilized by many professional sports teams as well as Olympic athletes. The process of training one’s visual perception can be applied to most individuals with activities that are fun, challenging and often result in improved mental focus, timing coordination and performance.
Visit our website @ http://www.shastaeyecare.com for links and additional information on vision therapy. Steven L. Goedert, OD is a fourth-generation optometrist. He has practiced in Redding for 30 years with an interest in Behavioral Optometry for 22 years. Shasta Professional Eyecare Center includes Dr. Steve Goedert, Drs. Curtis and Janet Newcomb, optometrists, and is located at 1225 Eureka Way, Redding, CA 96001. Phone: (530) 241-9650. If you have a question you would like answered in a future column, email Dr. Goedert at: firstname.lastname@example.org (yes, two “nets”).