By Dr. Kellye Knueppel
This post is sponsored by The Vision Therapy Center, which has offices in Brookfield, Fond du Lac, and Madison, Wisc.
Mary was a promising high school student who unfortunately began to develop vision problems that became overwhelming.
“I was having trouble reading the board,” she remembers. “I was having trouble focusing on novels I’d have to read for school.” To make matters worse, Mary also had what she describes as “a lot of pain” in her eyes.
Although she wore contacts, they didn’t seem to be helping with her vision problems. And a visit to her regular optometrist didn’t solve the problem. She could tell that Mary’s struggles weren’t going to be remedied with a stronger prescription. That’s when she referred Mary to The Vision Therapy Center.
What Was Behind Mary’s Struggles?
When Mary came to The Vision Therapy Center, she underwent a functional vision exam.
Functional vision is how your entire visual system — the eyes, the brain, the visual pathways — works together to help you interact with your environment.
The exam goes beyond a conventional vision test, which primarily measures visual acuity, or 20/20 eyesight. In a functional vision exam, a developmental optometrist will first review the patient’s health and eye history, focusing on visual problems and symptoms. This information is used to tailor an in-depth exam, which often includes tests for schoolwork-related vision problems.
Mary’s initial examination revealed that she had the following vision problems:
Accommodation issues. The technical term for focusing of the eyes is called accommodation. In healthy accommodation, tiny muscles inside your eye effectively control the eye lens to help you focus from near to distant objects (or vice versa).
Basically, focusing on something close engages the muscles, and looking at something in the distance makes them relax. For people with accommodation problems, such as Mary, it’s not that easy.
Convergence insufficiency. Convergence is the coordinated inward turning of the eyes. This skill is critical for our eyes to focus on close objects, like books, papers, and computer screens.
If your eyes don’t converge efficiently, it can adversely affect your ability to concentrate on otherwise simple tasks. More specifically, it can cause symptoms that include eye strain and discomfort when reading and concentrating — exactly what Mary was experiencing.
We recommended 30 weeks of in-office optometric vision therapy for Mary, which involves a series of activities and exercises designed to retrain the visual system. In addition, Mary would need to do at-home vision exercises.
Why Mary’s Initial Resistance Turned Into “Joy”
By the time Mary began optometric vision therapy, she was a busy high school junior in the midst of taking difficult courses, preparing for the ACT, and looking at colleges.
And she was also upset. “I was really mad at myself for having this issue,” says Mary. “I was mad that I would have to come here every week. I just thought it was really unfair.”
On top of that, Mary was skeptical of how the vision therapy exercises would help her. They not only seemed “weird” to her, but they also caused her discomfort doing them.
Fortunately, after 10 weeks of therapy, Mary’s first progress exam signaled a turning point, showing that Mary had made significant measurable gains.
Mary’s attitude also changed as she began to trust her optometrist more and the therapy exercises themselves. “I began to find joy in coming here and joy in feeling better and joy in not having this discomfort anymore,” says Mary.
Why Optometric Vision Therapy “Was Worth It”
Looking back, Mary says she feels fortunate for the help she received from The Vision Therapy Center.
“I had such a bad focusing system when I first came here. And I was having real pain, real discomfort. And now I’m not. And the nine months were challenging, and I did have to sacrifice a lot. But it was worth it,” says Mary.
What’s especially exciting about Mary’s story is that today she is a successful student at the University of Notre Dame, taking, among other things, pre-law courses.
A Vision Quiz Can Be the First Step Toward Detecting a Problem
Functional vision problems like Mary’s can be serious — especially if left untreated. But the good news is that they can often be helped with optometric vision therapy.
If your child has eye pain (like Mary did) or vision-related problems that baffle you, the teachers, and others, it’s by no means a definitive indication of a functional vision problem.
But it does suggest that something needs to be done. To take the first step toward diagnosis, I strongly recommend you take The Vision Therapy Center’s free online Vision Quiz.
Click here to take the Vision Quiz.
About the author: Dr. Kellye Knueppel is an award-winning developmental optometrist specializing in vision-related learning problems, sports vision, and rehabilitative optometry. She is board-certified in vision development as a Fellow of the College of Optometrists in Vision Development. Since opening The Vision Therapy Center in 1995, she has dedicated herself to helping people overcome their visual problems.