Sensory Modulated Postural Dysfunction

Posture and Vision

The magnocellular tract plays an important role in posture. It provides visual information that allows for spontaneous adjustment of posture and muscle tone as the environment changes. Integration of vestibular information with this visual information helps keep us stable when are moving.

Think of standing on a boat gently pitching to and fro on the water. As the boat rock, the muscles of ones legs, trunk, and neck all compensate and adjust to allow you to stay standing. Imagine how hard it would be to do this if one were blindfolded. It would be much more difficult if the brain was unable to get accurate data about the changes in horizon and the incoming waves.

Sensory Modulated Postural Dysfunction

SMPD is one of the subtypes of sensory dysfunction described by the Star Institute. Marked by postural weakness and decreased stamina (what we may have described previously as “low tone”), these children have difficult times sitting up tall and may demonstrate a head-forward, flexed posture with shoulder rolled forward and possible scapular winging. They may have weak hands and present to OT for difficulty with handwriting or visual motor integration. In optometry, they call this postural dysfunction or other terms.

Posture is Vision Is Posture

The link between posture and vision is very important. Decreased visual acuity or decreased magnocellular awareness can cause the brain to get poor information about the body’s position in space and not allow for appropriate muscular corrections as the environment changes and the child moves.  The vestibular system as well requires visual input to allow for correct adjust adjustment of posture. We might observe this as a clumsy child or a child with weak posture.

As therapists, it is important that we make sure our young patients have a full and complete eye exam as we begin to address postural weakness, visual motor integration and handwriting problems. An uncorrected visual system will make treatment very difficult. But an appropriate visual system becomes a powerful tool to help correct these problems.

Vision as a Postural Tool

It is possible to make use of the powerful magnocellular system to help with posture. The addition of prism or binasal occulsion during a typical treatment for postural problems and “low tone” can alter the perception of visual space. Base down prism will shift visual space upward, making the head go up. When the goes up, the trunk moves into more extension. The brain quickly makes adjustment to the body based on the altered visual space.

Can they see?

I continue to find children with a full team of professionals: PT, OT SLP, ABA, pediatricians, etc,  that have not had an eye exam. Know the ODs in your town that perform comprehensive binocular vision exams and make sure your kiddos can see !!

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“When should we see no head movement during visual tracking?”

When should they hold their head still…

The development  of the visual system in children is much discussed. The AOA offers time lines which have development of eye movement continuing to improve at 36 months. This development is dependent upon many factors including the development of the brain as whole and the vestibular, and proprioceptive systems. The development of these systems is inter-dependent. Problems in the visual system will affect development of the vestibular and other systems and impact the developmental movement sequence. This is why the first eye exam is recommended at 6 months of age.

In the birth to 3 three year old, developmental delays would most likely include tracking and saccades problems, particularly when neurological problems (seizures, anoxia, CP, etc) are present. As therapists, our treatments should should stimulate as many sensory systems at possible, including vision.

Eye Movement norms

The best information on the development of eye movement accuracy comes from the NSUCO Ocular motor norms. The NSUCO protocol looks at ability to perform the movement, accuracy of the movement, amount of head movement present and the amount of body movement present during the testing of tracking and saccades. Each of these skills is rated 1-5 with each score defined in the above referenced article. This is the standard way saccades and tracking are quantified by ODs. Each movement would include 4 numbers describing the child ability to perform the movement. This is a somewhat subjective test, much as our manual muscle testing is somewhat subjective. It is most important for the therapist to recognize the errors and refer to the doctor for scoring, then be able to interpret the score as provided by the doctor.

The norms begin at age 5 and support the idea of a constantly improving ocular motor system until full maturity at the age of the 10. The paper further references minimal standards from age 5 to 10 to help identify less than age appropriate eye movement accuracy.

The Therapist’s job

We should be screening these eye movement on all of our patients. Children with developmental delays have a high incidence of ocular motor problems which affect balance, reading, spatial awareness, fine motor and visual motor integration development. These ocular motor problems are influencing the outcomes of our interventions so being testing them should be a part of every OT and PTs evaluation process.

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How do we see up close?

The Near Vision System

“I can’t see the board” is a common reason children come for their first eye exam. But problems seeing close are more closely related to academic success then distance vision problems. With more computer use, and frequent changes from looking at the board to a notebook, school can be a workout for the near vision focusing system.

Watering eyes, rubbing eyes, and headaches are early signs of discomfort with near vision. These soon lead to difficulty reading and falling grades. The child may also show avoidance behaviors when trying to do school work as it is physically painful to see up close. But worst of all, the child may not say anything at all, as they do not know that their vision is not working right. Typical school vision screenings may miss the problem also.

The near vision system is a balance of several processes…

So what are the mechanisms involved in near vision focusing??

There are 3 processes involved in near vision focusing. Optometrists call it the near vision triad.

1) Pupil constriction- as an object moves closer, the pupils constrict to improve focusing of incoming light to the fovea. The fovea is an area on the retina with the highest density of light receptors. This area gives us our most acute vision.

2) Accommodative Convergence– as an object moves closer, the eyes move nasally to keep the object on the fovea. Both eyes should smoothly convergence together as the target moves closer.

3) Accommodation– lens of the eye focuses- In humans under 40 years old, the lens of the eye changes focus as objects move closer. This is much like a camera lens. As children, the lens is very flexible allowing for a large focusing range. After 40, the lens tends to become less flexible, so we end up wearing bifocals.

Here is a great example of it all working together:

As something moves toward us, the brain adjusts with the right amount of accommodation and convergence, in addition to the pupil constriction. The amount of both convergence and accommodation can be calculated by the the optometrist to come up with the AC/A ratio. This number gives the optometrist clues to the efficiency of the system.

What does it look like when it does not work right??

 

In some children, both of the lenses tend to over focus making them work very hard to maintain focus of near vision objects. The optometrist can assess this and improve it with glasses also. The child with accommodation problems will be rubbing his eyes during close work. He might complain of headaches when reading. He may show poor comprehension and poor reading skills. Or he may not show any of these signs. He may have a short reading span, or have a difficult time hold still, perhaps mis-identified as ADD.

Without enough convergence, the muscles that focus the lens tire as they work to keep near things in focus. They cause similar problems as poor accommodation and frequently a child will has both. This multi-process system is very flexible in children. Therefore, some children have problems coordinating the system. The condition is called convergence insufficiency and is a common vision problem in children. There will be a separate discussion of CI later.

This is easy to screen using the Near Point Convergence test .  

Only the optometrist can identify these problems, but as therapists, teachers and parents, we need to be aware of the signs of near focusing problems. The Convergence Insufficiency Symptom Survey  is a well researched tool that is very effective in identifying patients with possible CI.

Learn More

Learn more about this subject in a live course presented by Robert.  Its now available as a webinar too!! Hosted by PESI Education

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