“Is it a vision problem?”

Does this child have a visually-based problem?

Our children present with a vast array of problems affecting their development and academics. Sensory problems, trauma, autism, behavior, ADHD and the list goes on. Our children get assessed by OTs, and PTs, neurologists, neuropsychologists, and pediatricians. But did they have an eye-exam? A complete eye exam? Only 40% of children have had their eyes examined by an eye doctor. (1) That leaves all of those children potentially walking around with vision problems affecting their academic and developmental development. Meanwhile, we attempt to teach them catch a ball or write the alphabet or button a button.

“Does he need an eye exam?”

YES!!! Every child, regardless of academic performance or other diagnosis, needs a complete eye exam with a binocular vision assessment and cycloplegic dilation, even if the child has never complained about their vision.  Many times, when a child is assessed with the Convergence Insufficiency Symptom Survey, they learn that they are not supposed to see “words moving” on the page or see double when they read. They had symptoms and were not even aware. Most children with ocular motor or near vision problems will read letters on a chart without difficulty. 20/20 means only that each eye has good acuity. It does not tell us how well the eyes are working together or how hard the eyes are working to make a 20/20 acuity. Only a complete eye exam with binocular assessment and cycloplegic dilation can give the whole picture.

“Is this is visually-based problem?”

There are many signs a child is having a visual-based problem.

  • Eye rubbing
  • unexplained headaches
  • poor handwriting
  • poor reading skills that do not improve with tutoring
  • head turning or tilting when reading
  • closing one eye while reading
  • poor visual motor integration that does not improve practice
  • poor balance or motion sensitivity
  • Diagnosed ADHD that does not respond to medication
  • unable to catch a ball
  • letter reversals
  • visual perceptual problems
  • spacing and size problems during handwriting tasks
  • fine motor delays
  • poor depth perception

These problems maybe mis-diagnosed as things like dyslexia or ADHD and even be treated as such without success for many years.

“Who do I send them to, to make sure they a complete eye exam?”

A good place to start is College of Optometrists in Visual Development. These doctor specialize in the assessment and treatment of eye movement disorders and near vision focusing problems that could be affecting academic performance. You can your local COVD doctor with the search tool on the site. One might also look for an optometrist that specializes in pediatrics or binocular vision.

When an appointment is made, be specific about symptoms and ask for a “binocular vision assessment”.

Every child

Every child needs a complete eye exam. Parents may have many reasons to not get this dome, but you cannot teach a child read or write, or catch a ball that cannot see.

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1.Children’s Vision Screening and Intervention. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://nationalcenter.preventblindness.org/childrens-vision-screening-and-intervention

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

The Hart Chart

Accommodation

Accommodation is one of the mechanisms that allow us to see up close. Accommodation is the focusing of the lenses in each eye. This action, combined with the convergence, allows for us to see clearly up close. 

Accommodation is the result of the contraction of the ciliary bodies in the eye which allow for the lens to get thicker thereby focusing the image better in the fovea. This action also includes the constriction of the pupil which more precisely focuses the light on fovea making the image sharper. Here is video of this in action

 

“Its blurry up close”

When accommodation does not work, one may see blurry up close, get headaches or rub the eyes due to eye strain. The ciliary muscles attempting to make the image clear, causes this discomfort discomfort. Accommodation can be exercised to strengthen it to improve near vision. This is generally performed in conjunction with convergence exercises to improve near vision  when one treats convergence insufficiency.

The Hart Chart

A simple way to improve convergence is using a Hart chart. With this activity, a grid of letters is placed at distance and one is held by the patient, near. The patient then reads a line close (or letter) then a line at distance. This is done with one eye occluded so the accommodative action is exercised as the eye focuses near then far. In my clinic, this performed while standing on balance board to further challenge the patient. This simple activity is quite effective at strengthening accommodation. A Hart chart can be purchased from Bernell, found on the internet and is included on the Vision Rehabilitation for Pediatrics Course Companion flash drive. Heres a video.

The Hart chart is one way accommodation can be strengthened. In optometric vision therapy, lenses can be used to strengthen accommodation using an activity called Accommodative Rock.

Support your local Optometrist

A complete binocular vision assessment should be conducted before performing these tasks to make sure that are appropriate. Only an ophthalmologist or optometrist can accurately diagnose an accommodative problem.

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Every Optometrist should have a favorite Occupational Therapist

ODs and OTs…how i joined the team

It was my luck to find a job at a forward thinking optometry practice that wanted an occupational therapist on-site to provide low vision services (training on devices, home modification, etc). But the occupational therapy scope quickly moved to reading problems, visual motor integration, handwriting and “visual processing” problems.  I had to quickly learn about eye movements, convergence and focusing problems that our ODs were finding. I learned about the Convergence Insufficiency Treatment trial and the prevalence of eye movement problems affecting the functional outcomes of pediatric OT patients. I attended NORA training levels one and two. I even got learn about performance vision training as part of the High Performance Vision Associates.

The results were amazing. When the practice changed ownership, I continued my practice as part of an outpatient pediatric therapy clinic working with other PTs OTs and and SLPs.

Helping more Children

The OD that I worked with continues sending me patients, only now, every child is seen regardless of insurance ( a problem in the OD clinic). I frequently spend 6-8 hours a day of direct patient contact on vision patients. Now with a complete therapy clinic, the scope had expanded to managing the strength and postural problems, as well as the sensory problems often associated with children that have eye movement problems.  We are adding vision rehab to traditional pediatric occupational therapy

And the optometrist that refers to me? He is also very busy, as his reputation for performing complete eye exams on special needs children and finding problems other ODs did not, made him the “go to guy” in our community.

Why partner with an OT?

Every optometrist should have an OT that they can refer patients. As OTs, our education includes standardized testing for fine and gross motor defects, learning the developmental sequence from birth to old age and kinesiology and movement. We treat sensory problems and use reliable and valid tools to identify these problems. We are already treating the children with eye movement problems and doing the best we can. We know a part of the puzzle is missing.

Training needed

The OD may have to spend some time with the occupational therapist teaching about convergence and the near vision system and the most efficient way to treat these things. The course I present teaches the basic skills for this and I have taught about 700 therapists so far.  You, as an OD, will quickly find a receptive therapist as we recognize that vision is standing in the way of our kiddos progress, but we do not know how to fix. In return, a rewarding symbiotic relationship can begin that benefits all involved. Mostly, it benefits the children that need these important interventions to be more accessible .

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About the Author

 

 

From Vision Rehab to Pediatric therapist doing VR

Vision Rehab comes to Pediatric Clinic(*)

The optometry practice I had worked at was sold and the new owner did not wish to continue the OT program. I was quickly welcomed by the program manger and lead OT at the Pearl Nelson Child Development Center. I had previously treated both of these wonderful ladies’ children and they recognized the potential of adding vision rehabilitation to the impressive list of services offered by PNC. Thanks to Drs. Carl and Katie Spear who have generously allowed me to continue to use the Visual Performance Center equipment so I can continue to provide this much needed service to a bigger population.

“Why do you assume they can see?”

Dr. Mark Obenchain asked me this not long after we began to work together. We assume a child with PT, OT, SLP, pediatrician, neurologist, and behavior specialist has surely had an appropriate pediatric eye exam. As therapist’s, we ask about the most recent vision exam but get a variety of answers.

  • “He passed the school screening”
  • “We had him checked a few years ago”
  • “The doctor said he didn’t need glasses”
  • “He had glasses but broke them six months ago and we haven’t got new ones yet”

I do a brief binocular vision screening as part of seeing any patient for the first while I ask about the most recent eye exam. When I am done, I ask if the doctor did any other things they watched me do. Most often they did not.

American Optometry Association Eye exam recommendations

The eyes of our special children need special care. The first eye exam should be at six months. This exam can be covered by the InfantSee program which offers this important first exam at no cost.

The AOA then recommends for “at risk” children  a second exam at 3 years of age, then annual exams from 6 to 18 years old. (1) These exams should include a binocular vision assessment and cycloplegic refraction/retinoscopy as recommended by the AOA clinical practice guideline.

Many of our special needs kids will not find this process enjoyable but it is a very important part of ensuring we are doing everything to help our special children.

Parents do your research

As parent begin to look for the right eye doctor for their special needs child, asking the right questions can help find the right doc

  • Ask other parents who they take their child to for eye exam. Parents of special needs children know the professionals that are best at working with their children.
  • When you call the optometry office, inform them of your child needs and ask if they have experience with special needs children.
  • Ask specifically  if they do binocular vision exams. The only acceptable answer is yes.

“Step one…Can they see??”

Our special needs kids have problems with fine motor skills, balance, visual motor integration, and gait. All of these skills require the best vision possible for therapy interventions to be most effective.

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About the Author

 

*I know the first person blog post is considered a no-no, but given the big changes I felt I could bend the rules.

 

 

 

 

 

Dyslexia and Vision Rehabilitation

Dyslexia and Vision Therapy

Dyslexia is word frequently tossed about when children have problems reading or learning. Commons complaints that lead to the use of the word include letter reversals, poor reading comprehension and decreased reading fluency. These symptoms are also recognized as possible vision related problems cause by poor eye movement accuracy.

Is dyslexia a vision problem or a language problem?

Attempting to define dyslexia can be confusing. The origin of the word is vague: “dys” meaning difficulty with and “lexia”  meaning reading lends itself to broad interpretation.  The best definition for dyslexia, from the International Dyslexia Association says:

“Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

The research shows that the root cause of dyslexia is phonological processing, or how the brain processes sounds in language. Additionally, the prevalence of dyslexia is estimated to be between 5-20% of the population, according to the National Institute of Health: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/dyslexia/dyslexia.htm. *

Reading is a complex process involving language, speech, memory and other processes, but all of these processes assume that the collection of the information to be processed is accurate, ie that the eyes work correctly and move accurately. We do know that poor eye movements lead to poor processing skills because the data to be processed was not collected accurately.

Does vision therapy treat dyslexia?

This is also a very interesting question. In our vision rehab practice, we frequently get children referred to us that have common symptoms of dyslexia and visual processing difficulties like reversals and poor reading skills. Following the interventions, the children have reduced symptoms and most have improved reading fluency.

Some of patients do continue to have problems in reading although they show improved eye movements. At this point, we may further assess the patient using a dyslexia screening tool that can identify specific errors related to the processing parts of reading such as the decoding and encoding of words. When results indicate, we refer those children to specialists like our friends at Read-Write Learning Center at  that specialize in the treatment of dyslexia.

 

Does vision therapy treat dyslexia????

NO. Vision therapy cannot treat dyslexia. But it does improve the accuracy of eye movements eliminating many of the symptoms generally associated with dyslexia. With these eye movement problems gone, an accurate assessment of the visual processing skills and reading fluency is now possible, allowing for an accurate diagnosis of a visual processing or other reading and learning problems.

Here is a video case study describing the process.


*Special thanks to Hunter Oswalt, Director of the Read-Write Learning Center for her input on editing this post.

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About the Author