An Occupational Therapist Treats Convergence Insufficiency

An OT treats CI

The process the author uses to treat convergence insufficiency has proven in his clinic to be very efficient, effective and repeatable. Symptoms are generally resolved in 8-10 visits for neuro-typical children and adolescences. This treatment process does not include assessment of primitive reflexes though many of the activities (not by design) may help to integrate these retained reflexes. Treatment sessions are twice a week for one hour. Home programs consist of a brock string performed 3-4 minutes in the morning and afternoon. The patient returns for their annual eye exam one year later and remain symptom free.

The Referral

Most of the referrals are made by Dr. Mark Obenchain OD, a binocular vision/peds specialist. He is a graduate of Indiana University where he completed a residency in binocular vision and pediatrics. He accepts all insurances and Medicaid.  Our patients cover a board spectrum of demographics with approximately 2/3rds being neuro-typical and the remaining 1/3rd having an additional diagnosis such as ADHD, Autism, or other developmental delay. A complete pediatric eye exam with cycloplegic dilation is performed on every child under the age 18 regardless of complaints.

The doctor diagnoses CI when:

The OT Evaluation

The occupational therapy evaluation begins with medical history, medication history and a discussion of academic performance and hobbies.

The following testing is performed:

  • extra ocular movements
  • tracking
  • stereopsis
  • near point of accommodation
  • near point of convergence
  • Developmental Eye Movement Test
  • Beery VMI, Visual Perception and Motor Tests
  • Observations are made during proactive and rotator 3 activities on Sanet Vision Integrator for eye-hand coordination, posture and balance. This performed while patient stands on balance board.

The author does not assess visual perception at this time as the patient has been diagnosed with a near vision problem which could taint the results of this test. An OT evaluation is also an untimed code making the 30-45 minute test not efficient to perform at this time. If visual perceptual problems exist after meeting all CI related goals, then visual perception is assessed and treated.

The Goals

The therapy goals are specific and measurable as well as being tied to function.

  1. LTG–Pt to demonstrate age appropriate visual skills
    1. STG–Pt to demonstrate near point convergence< 6 cm on 5 trials
    2. STG–Pt to fuse 15 BO loose prism to demonstrate improved fusion skills for improved reading and close  tolerance.
    3. STG–Pt to complete 20/30 Rock card with 2.00 flipper in 60-90 seconds to demonstrate age appropriate accommodation skills to improve read and close work tolerance.
    4. Complete Developmental Eye Movement test with age appropriate ratio to demonstrate improve ocular motor accuracy for reading tasks.
    5. STG–Pt to demonstrate age appropriate visual motor integration as tested by Beery VMI
  2. LTG–Pt to be (I) in use brock string to support in clinic treatment.

The Treatment Protocol

The below protocol has been effective and repeatable with most neuro-typical children ages 6 and up. The author has modified activities for children that have difficulties with these tasks which lengthens the amount of treatment sessions but are still effective in meeting the above goals.

  1. On the Sanet Vision Integrator
    1.  Proactive, performed monocular using R/B glasses, while standing on balance board, therapist holds head still while patient alternates touching dots with right then left hands regardless of placement of dots.
    2. Rotator 3, monocular, while on balance board. May touch with any hand, verbal cues to recall alphabet as needed.
  2. Convergence activities
    1. Tranaglyph slides with goal of reaching 30 BO and 12 BI.
    2. Loose prism Jump Vergences with “circle X square” tranaglyph for binocular feedback.
  3. Accommodation
    1. Accommodative Rock task, monocular
  4. Saccades 2 task on Sanet Vision Integrator, while on balance board, monocular with R/B glasses, head held still as needed. Goal is achieve 100% accuracy .5 interval with words.
  5. After improving with these tasks, pt may be progressed to aperture arm, often challenged with 1.00 flipper to maintain focus
  6. Visual motor integration tasks, tracing shapes, copying geoboard forms on paper and/or chalkboard/SVI and other visual motor tasks.
  7. HTS Autoslide performed at end of session

CPT code 97530- therapeutic activities, a timed code, is used for all sessions.

The Outcome

Patient are discharged upon reaching all goals as stated above on two consecutive visits. When this has occurred there have been no re-referrals for CI. There is also a resolution to many other symptoms including

  • resolution of headaches
  • improve reading fluency
  • a resolution to letter reversals in most cases
  • improve handwriting
  • improvement is self-esteem

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Autism and Vision

Autism and Sight

There has been several recently published articles on autism with some dysfunctions being found at a higher rate than in the neuro-typical population. One study, published in January 2017, found consistently that children with autism reacted slower to changes in light (pupillary light reflex). The pupillary light reflex was slower when lighting changed and, in darkness, the pupil measured smaller than controls.(1)

A second study, published in 2018, found a higher rate of accommodative problems (17.4% for ASD, vs 4.9% control) for children diagnosed with autism. While there was no substantial difference in the rate of refractive error, this higher rate of accommodative problems makes a complete eye exam with assessment of near vision acuity more important.(2)

A review of evidence found several contradictory studies concerning the prevalence of eye movement defects associated with autism, though most agree that saccades inaccuracy as well as difficulties in tracking are common in ASD. These movement problems, coupled with other fine and gross motor deficits found in autism suggests a cerebellar problem.(3)

Autism and Vision

Difficulties with the integration of visual information is found in several studies. All of these studies point to a lack of integration between the parvocellular and magnocellular tract and reduced communication between these tracts.(3)

Studies found differences in VEPs (visually evoked potentials) studies in the activity of the magnocellular tract compared to neuro typical children. The difference was, most notably, a slower recovery period for the magnocellular tract and therefore, decreased integration of the information. Functionally, this may help explain the visual spatial problems frequently seen in ASD diagnosed children. (4, 5)

Lateral gazing’ behavior was also found in some children with ASD as they attempted to use peripheral vision to reduced central visual pathway input. (3) This behavior is also suggestive of magnocellular tract deficits.

Integration Deficits

A common thread through many of these studies is a decreased integration of visual information and motor pathways and the cerebellum. (6) This lack of integration could help explain the ocular motor and saccade problems, as well as increased incidence of gait problems and toe walking (7,8) and visual motor integration problems found in children with ASD. A study also showed that people with ASD do not make good use of visual information to correct posture (9). Addressing this lack of integration could be helpful making functional progress with children on the spectrum.

Summary

A complete binocular vision exam with cycloplegic dilation is very important for every child with autism (and neuro typical children too) given the potential for a higher rate of accommodative and ocular motor problems and fine motor, reading and handwriting problems.

Given the evidence of integration problems, activities for children with ASD should be “top down” type activities that require the integration of movement and vision.

Much of this research is very recent and found some changes from previous research. Many of the studies suggested these differences in results were related to redefining autism with the release of DSM-5 eliminating Aspergers and pervasive developmental disorder and grouping these into the current terminology of autism spectrum disorder. The inclusion of these subjects in studies have helped improve the understanding of vision and autism. Many of the studies also sited small samples as potential limitations.

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(1)Anketell, P. M., Saunders, K. J., Gallagher, S. M., Bailey, C., & Little, J. A. (2018, March). Accommodative Function in Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Retrieved March 05, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29424829

(2)DiCriscio, A. S., & Troiani, V. (2017, July 25). Pupil adaptation corresponds to quantitative measures of autism traits in children. Retrieved March 05, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28743966

(3)Bakroon, A., & Lakshminarayanan, V. (2016, July). Visual function in autism spectrum disorders: a critical review. Retrieved March 05, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27161596

(4)Jackson, B. L., Blackwood, E. M., Blum, J., Carruthers, S. P., Nemorin, S., Pryor, B. A., . . . Crewther, D. P. (2013, June 18). Magno- and Parvocellular Contrast Responses in Varying Degrees of Autistic Trait. Retrieved March 05, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23824955

(5)Sutherland, A., & Crewther, D. P. (2010, July). Magnocellular visual evoked potential delay with high autism spectrum quotient yields a neural mechanism for altered perception. Retrieved March 05, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20513659

(6)Miller, M., Chukoskie, L., Zinni, M., Townsend, J., & Trauner, D. (2014, August 01). Dyspraxia, motor function and visual-motor integration in autism. Retrieved March 05, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24742861

(7)Accardo, P. J., & Barrow, W. (2015, April). Toe walking in autism: further observations. Retrieved March 05, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24563477

(8)Kindregan, D., Gallagher, L., & Gormley, J. (n.d.). Gait deviations in children with autism spectrum disorders: a review. Retrieved March 05, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25922766

(9)Morris, S. L., Foster, C. J., Parsons, R., Falkmer, M., Falkmer, T., & Rosalie, S. M. (2015, October 29). Differences in the use of vision and proprioception for postural control in autism spectrum disorder. Retrieved March 05, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26314635

“Can eye movement problems be related to torticollis?”

Ocular Torticollis

Torticollis can be caused by several things. Delays or problems in the integral development of muscle tone, the vestibular system and propreioception can all be causes.  Eye alignment, nystagmus and acuity problems can also affect head position.  When vision is the primary cause for torticollis, it is referred to as ocular torticollis.  One study found 20% of torticollis related to ocular problems. (1)

Eye alignment

Head tilts and head turns are common signs of eye alignment problems. Deviations between eyes in the horizontal plane (hyper- or hypo- tropia) can cause head tilts in the brains attempt to see a single, fused image. Head turns (rotation) to right or left can be caused by strabismus (eso- or exo- tropia). Again, the brain turns the head in attempt to not see double. Other more complex movement patterns can also cause head position and posture problems.

Nystagmus

Nystagmus is an involuntary movement of the eyes. This is generally associated with a neurological problem. They can be congenital or acquired. Many times, patients with a nystagmus will turn their head to find the point at which the nystagmus stops. This point, called the “null point” allows for improved vision for the patient.

Acuity problems

Astigmatism, a condition in which the eyeball is not perfecting round but more football shaped, can also cause visual acuity problems that might facilitate a head tilt in order to improve vision.

Eye Exam

Every child should have their first eye exam at 6 months (per AOA recommendations). A through eye exam that includes a binocular vision exam would find eye alignment problems most likely to cause ocular torticollis.  If treating a patient with torticollis of unknown cause, a binocular vision exam could be helpful in identify the problem. Frequently, prisms and lens can be prescribed that can help reduce the torticollis.

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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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The Binocular Vision Exam

The Child’s Special Visual System

Children’s eyes are amazing. They bring the world to an eager child and facilitate development of many skills.  The visual world influences posture and gait, fine motor development, letter recognition on to reading skills and many other areas.  The importance of good vision cannot be over stated.

The Pediatric vision exam

The vision exam for a child should include assessments not generally not performed on adults. Check out this post first to understand how we see up close. 

  • Cyclopelgic Dilation and Refraction- This allows for the doctor to completely exam the retina of a child for optic nerve problems and other congenital problems that child may have. The cyclopelgic dilation also relaxes the ciliary muscles which control accommodation (focusing of the lens within the eye). This allows the doctor to exam the true refractive error of the eye which can frequently be corrected by the accommodation of the lens.  This should be considered mandatory once a year.
  • Near Point of Convergence – This brief assessment allows for the doctor to assess how how well the eyes are working together when seeing up close.
  • Measured cover test- A cover test reveals the amount of effort needed for the eyes to maintain their position. It also shows subtle eye movement problems like strabismus.
  • Retinoscopy – in this assessment, the doctor can get an objective measurement of refractive error. This eliminates communication problems some children may have and makes for the most accurate solution for a child;s visual acuity.

Better or Worse

General optometrists and opthamologists may or may not perform these tests.  Without them, an important part of the assessment of a child’s vision has been left out. Eye movements can cause delays in gross and fine motor development and decreased reading performance and difficulty in sports, like hitting or catching a baseball.

Look for doctors that advertise being pediatric or binocular vision specialist. Look for doctors that members of the College of Visual Development or the Neuro – Optometric Vision Association.  These are doctors that specialized in the assessment of binocular vision skills.

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Visual Motor Integration

Visual Motor Integration and Eye Movements

Visual motor integration is the use of visual information to make a motor plan. These “motor plans” include things like balance, walking in a straight line, handwriting and solving puzzles like mazes and parquetry patterns.

In the earliest days of baby’s life, they see an item across the room. A parent, a toy or a favorite snack can ignite a spark to move. This is a developmentally early example of vision facilitating a motor plan. Without vision, children tend to not explore their environment and consequently show decreased gross motor skills. As children learn to write, visual motor integration plays an important part as the child sees the letter then copies the letter, a fine motor action.

Visual Motor Integration Problems

The visual motor process starts with vision. The child must see the letters accurately in order to copy them accurately. The child then must have adequate strength and coordination to execute the task. Errors in visual motor integration can be related to difficulty with the visual input or motor output of the equation. Error of the motor part tend to be quickly identified as perhaps weak 3 point pinch during hand writing or weak leg muscles while walking a balance beam. But what about the visual input? What if this child has poor eye teaming or reduced vision?

Putting the Visual in Visual Motor

Imagine someone attempting to identify a coin by only using their sense of touch. Only there is glove on their hand. This would be very difficult and the person most likely be incorrect. Does this person have a problem processing tactile information? Of course not! They have not gathered accurate information and therefore will not process to the correct result.

The same thing happens when a child with vision problems as visual motor integration is tested. The child always has reduced visual motor integration because they are not processing accurate visual information.

Visual Motor Assessment and Treatment

The most consistent functional problem seen in children with eye teaming problems is below age appropriate visual motor integration. There are several good tools for assessing visual motor integration including the Test of Visual Motor Skills , Full Range Test of Visual Motor Skills, and Beery Visual Motor Integration test. These all are standardized test and are part of any good occupational therapists assessment.

Children with visual motor integration problems will have reduced balance and difficulty with handwriting and copying from the board. They have difficulty with visual puzzles and finding the visual differences in shapes and drawing. Treatment of the deficits will be very difficult if the child is having eye teaming or other vision problems.

Here are some great sources for visual motor activities:

Tools to Grow     Your Therapy Source    Eye Can Learn

There are some iPad Apps too!!

My Mosaic has kids make pictures moving colored dots.

The Matrix Games has several games for putting shapes together.

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Assessment and treatment of Saccade Problems

Saccades – The Quick Movement of the Eyes

Saccades are quick short movements of the eyes. The cavemen used them to quickly assess the environment and see where a threat (or dinner) might be. We use them now for reading, in a series of quick movements and fixation. We also use saccades to update changes in our environment, so they are influenced by peripheral awareness.  They help build a spatial map of the environment. The movements are involuntary and triggered by changes in the spatial environment.

One can look for inaccurate saccades associated with TBI, concussions and strokes. Inaccurate saccades are also associated with most binocular vision problems, like convergence insufficiency.

Measuring the Saccade Problem

Saccades testing can show a therapist overshooting or undershooting, but objective measurement helps set goals.  We use the Developmental Eye Movement test. The DEM provides good objective data concerning eye movement accuracy.

The Developmental Eye Movement test (DEM), is a standardized assessment of saccade accuracy. It is standardized for 5-13 year olds. An adult version is currently being developed and tested, but testing indicates values for a 13 year old are generally valid for an adult. 

The DEM has 4 parts, all involve the timed reading of a list of numbers. The first part is sample of horizontal numbers used to insure the patient can see the text adequately. In the next section, two vertical columns of numbers are read and timed with errors noted.  There are two vertical tests with the times added.

There is the final horizontal test which present horizontal lines of unevenly spaced numbers, which the subject reads while being timed with omissions and substitutions noted.

Times are compared to norms based on age or grade percentiles, They are then used to derive a ratio of horizontal to vertical times that help to identify the cause of the errors, either automatically (subjects ability to call out numbers) versus ocular motor difficulty.

The test is quick and correlates well to reading problems.

The DEM is not perfect as the person must be verbal and recognize numbers. Frequently the task of reading out loud produces a lot anxiety for children that have problems with the task also. Observation of behaviors during the DEM and the reading can also give some insight.

The tester should note…

  • does the child hold the material very close to his face ?
  • …or far?
  • does he squint or rub his eyes during the assessment?
  • does he use his finger to follow the letters?
  • does he move his head during testing? This is very telling as using head movement rather than eye movement slows fluency and saccade accuracy.
  • are there long pauses at the beginning of a new as the child attempts to find the correct line
  • does accuracy of words get worse as the reading continues or does the child use context to fabricate the end of the sentence?
  • Does he turn his head to the left or right?

Following reading, I ask some specific questions if the child had difficulty to help identify what the child is seeing. These questions sound crazy, but make perfect sense to child with saccade or near vision problems.

  • do the words move when try to read them?
  • do you see double?
  • do they blurry then clear then blurry?
  • do they appear to float?

Sometimes the children have a hard time describing just what they see. Parents are often very surprised at the responses to the questions. The child did not know that everyone does not see that way.

Treatment

The treatment for saccade problems, like all ocular motor problems, assumes the child is in best corrected visual acuity.

I also use a sheet or graph paper with random dots for the children to draw small , vertical lines through.

The Hart Chart Decoding activity is also a good task.  This task has a grid of letters on one sheet and themed (there’s SpongeBob and Sports, and others)secret messages on another. Each letter in the massage corresponds to a column/row combination that the child counts to find the letter. Initially the child is allowed to use his finger to help count the rows and columns, but as they get better at the task, the finger is no longer allowed.

EyeCanLearn.com   is an amazing website with vision games and printable with saccade activities.

Having a child read the first letter of words in a paragraph can improve saccade accuracy as well simple vertical strips of letters that can be more further apart. The therapist can add a metronome to these tasks to help increase the pace.  Add balance to these task to increase the challenge of the brain and visual system.

Saccade strips are two strips of paper with vertical letters. The patient reads the letters left to right and top to bottom. Start with the strips close together then separate them as the the patient gets quicker. Remember to keep the head still, even if the therapist has to help!

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