What To Expect With Vision Therapy Treatment:
Question: What is the average number of vision therapy sessions needed?
Dr. Fuerst: Usually between eight and 12 sessions. We train the parent to be a “home therapist” to work with their child for about a half an hour each day and then they come in once every two weeks and they go through the various skills.So, it runs about four to six months.
Question: What are the benefits of vision therapy?
Dr. Fuerst: The benefits are life-changing. Just a few weeks ago I had a parent come in and say “I am bringing my grandson in to see you for vision therapy. You did such wonderful work with my son 25 years ago and it was a turning point in his life in fourth grade. He was a non-reader and hated reading. Today he is a practicing physician. I want you to check my grandson. I told her that I was so happy I had a positive influence on your son. She responded “No, you don’t understand. That was the tipping point for him. He hating reading and therefore hated school, and was very frustrated. After vision therapy, he started picking up reading, really enjoying it, and ended up going to med school!”
I hear stories like this over and over again. So, to me, the ability to make reading and learning easier is priceless.
We have a finite, fixed amount of concentration you can bring to reading and learning. If you are wide awake and feeling good, you can give a little more attention. If you are tired distressed for some reason, you can give less attention. Whatever it is, you want the lion’s share of that amount of attention to be on the cognition, decoding the words, adding it to the gestalt or the body of what you have been reading for comprehension.
Vision requires a bit of energy to keep it in focus, to keep the eyes lined up, to do the tracking, and so if that is taking an over-abundance of effort for the child to be able to read, then we fix that. We improve it so that they are able to put more of their attention and concentration on what they are reading, and not on the process of visually scanning and reading.
Question: Is there a connection with learning and reading disorders and ADHD?
Dr. Fuerst: Yes and no. True ADHD is something totally separate. However, if you go back and see how they measure the brain waves and concentration that is indicative of cognition, you will find that a ton of research from the 60’s and 70’s about the alpha rhythms, the proverbial dial-tone of the brain, also called bio-feedback.
A normal alpha rhythm when you are taking a walk in the woods, not really focusing on anything, kinda just taking it all in, the amplitude of the alpha rhythm wave is quite high.
It will oscillate up and down with a good high point and a good low point. Then we ask the same person to really concentrate on something, for instance to calculate a mathematical equation, the amplitude of the alpha rhythm becomes very small, going up a little bit, and down a little bit, up a little bit and down a little bit.
Back in the day there was a whole thing about bio-feedback, and what happened is that we had these type-A personalities that were having heart attacks and they’d measure these folks with the alpha rhythms and saw “Hey, your alpha rhythms are the same when they are relaxed as when they are concentrating on something.” So they worked with these people to try and get the standard alpha rhythm pattern, and that helped them to more fully relax.
Then they researched children with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia and ADHD or ADD, and those kids had the opposite alpha rhythm. When they were concentrating really hard, their alpha rhythms are high, oscillating up and down with a huge wave of high point and a good low point, as if they are not focusing and just relaxing.
If you want to measure the alpha rhythm of the brain, the best place to place the skin surface electrode is right above the occipital lobe of the brain on the back of the skull. This occipital lobe strictly deals with vision. So, to say that attention and concentration is highly tied to vision is not a difficult link to be able to prove physiologically.
I will get kids who have a lot of the hallmark symptoms of ADHD or ADD, such as not being able to concentrate for more than 5 minutes, can’t stay focused, and so on, and you find out they have a massive tracking problem, a massive convergence insufficiency. I say, “Yeah. No wonder you are manifesting ADHD-like symptoms. Unfortunately these kids get misdiagnosed with ADD or ADHD. It’s not true, it’s not accurate. They just need vision therapy.
Question: It sounds like vision therapy is only for children. Do you treat adults as well?
Dr. Fuerst: Our main focus is on children, but I see quite a few adults. I will get patients who have had binocular vision issues intermittently throughout their lives and then they start getting into their senior years and now the muscle tone throughout the body is diminished, and all of a sudden they are seeing double when they are driving.
They’ve been to three or four doctors. Some are prescribed prisms in their glasses, and sometimes it helps but not really. Another example is they’d like to be able to read more, but they can’t due to intermittent double vision. They’ve gone through a dozen pairs of glasses, in the last three or four years. The doctors they are seeing are telling them they need computer glasses, you need single-vision, you need progressives and so on, but they are still having intermittent double vision.
We get them started with vision therapy and we’ve have very good success. We also treat adults who have had head trauma, massive car accidents, previous coma patients, and brain injury.
The reason our main focus is on children is:
Their sense of value and self-worth is linked to their ability to read. They are going through this on a daily basis in school. With adults, they’ve gone through their life like this, and it’s amazing how many parents will say “That’s me! My son has this now. It’s just like me growing up. I hated school and reading.”
The adults have found ways to compensate in life, for instance by getting jobs that don’t require a tremendous amount of visual intensity and so on. In cases like this, we often work with the parent as well.