If you’re an occupational therapist, you’ve probably seen a case in which vision seems to negatively impact your patient’s progress. You know there is a vision problem, but you may not know what specifically isn’t working well.
The doctors at The Vision Therapy Center have interacted with many occupational therapists over the years, and we’re always impressed by their knowledge of the visual system and their commitment to their patients. Many O.T.’s ask us excellent questions about the visual system in order to gain more insight into functional vision problems and their treatment options.
Functional vision problems are a speciality area for the developmental optometrists at The Vision Therapy Center. We have specific equipment and training to further evaluate patients with suspected vision problems. We can determine what prescription will maximize visual function and whether glasses alone are enough to address a patient’s vision problems.
Three Types of Functional Vision Problems
Let’s define functional vision problem. Many people think of good or bad vision in terms of how clearly you see an object, or visual acuity. But seeing an object clearly is only one part of vision.
Functional vision is the way your brain, eyes and visual pathways interact to let you see and interact with an object in space. This includes visual skills such as control of eye movements, depth perception, and orientation.
Many times, parents first see the signs of a functional vision problem when their child begins struggling in school (although they might not realize vision is to blame). They may skip lines while reading, develop poor handwriting, and/or struggle to copy notes from the board.
Children with poor functional vision may also experience difficulties with sports, as poor depth perception can make it hard to accurately judge the speed and trajectory of an incoming ball.
A child who is a poor test-taker could also have a vision problem. Commonly, these children do much better when test questions are read to them, and may have difficulty sitting still and keeping their attention on the test in front of them.
Another population whose function can be severely impacted by vision problems is people who have suffered acquired or traumatic brain injury. Often, tasks that were easy before the injury (e.g. reading, walking and driving) are suddenly difficult or impossible to do after.
Occupational therapists are often very aware of the effects of vision problems. Here’s a breakdown of the three main types of functional vision problems and their symptoms:
1. Poor ocular motor skills (tracking) - This is a condition where a person cannot easily and accurately control the movements of their eyes.
* Symptoms: Loses place when reading, skips small words, slow reading speed, poor reading comprehension, difficulty copying from the board.
2. Poor accommodation (focusing) - This occurs when a person is unable to maintain a clear image or focus on an object.
* Symptoms: Rubbing eyes, excessive blinking, squinting, frontal headaches, eyes hurting, itching or stinging when reading, difficulty copying from the board.
3. Poor convergence/divergence (eye teaming) - When a person has difficulty using their eyes together as a team, it negatively impacts their depth perception, causing blurry and/or double vision and fatigue with nearpoint tasks.
* Symptoms: Fatigue when reading, avoids reading, frequently looking away from reading material, poor reading comprehension, words split apart and/or move on the page.
Working With Vision Therapists to Treat Vision Problems
If you suspect a vision problem in any of your patients, referring them to a developmental optometrist for a functional vision evaluation is an important next step.
Once we have identified the patient’s vision problem, we can discuss the best treatment plan moving forward. Often, the best results are obtained when the patient completes vision therapy and occupational therapy simultaneously.
If you’re interested in learning more about vision therapy for your patients, please contact us. We’re happy to answer any questions, and we’d also be happy to provide a presentation on functional vision and vision therapy for your team.