We’re often told to exercise our minds and our bodies, but did you know that it’s just as important to exercise our vision? Vision therapy is a growing field that is helping to treat adults, children and athletes with a range of conditions, from headaches and learning difficulties, to clumsiness and more. Here are some tips from Meredith Graham, Behavioural Optometrist at Harmony Vision Care in Queensland.
“People are generally unaware that poor vision is about more than being unable to see clearly. If your visual system is not working properly, it can result in symptoms that people don’t always equate with vision. This includes being uncoordinated, having headaches or skipping or jumping words and lines when reading, which can make learning difficult,” says Meredith Graham, Behavioural Optometrist, Australasian College of Behavioural Optometrists.
“Vision therapy is often prescribed as part of a patient’s treatment plan. Vision therapy is used to improve the coordination, functioning and processing of the whole visual system, so that it works in the best way possible. “That’s why it’s helpful in so many situations, from improving a tennis player’s serve through improved hand/eye coordination, to helping a child improve his or her reading skills with tracking and focussing exercises.”
A vision therapy program is designed to meet individual symptoms and concerns and is conducted by a trained Behavioural Optometrist (a qualified optometrist working in the field of Behavioural Vision Care). It generally involves a combination of eye activities and sometimes prescribed glasses. The activities might include a game of noughts and crosses in the patient’s head or following a ball on a string. A vision therapy program can run between 6 weeks and several months. Behavioural Optometrists consider all visual, visual motor and visual cognitive skills to improve visual performance.
“You’ve probably heard a sports commentator describe a player’s ability to accurately judge where other players or their goals are going without looking, as ‘great vision’,” says Ms Graham. “This ability often has little to do with the player’s clarity of vision, but rather his or her peripheral awareness and efficient visual function. Some people have these skills naturally while others need to learn to develop them through techniques like those provided in vision therapy.”
If you are concerned about your vision or coordination, or simply want to improve your eye-hand coordination, book to see a behavioural optometrist. To find one near you, visit the website for the Australasian College of Behavioural Optometrists at www.acbo.org.au
Signs you (or your child) may benefit from vision therapy:
- Clumsy with objects
- Tripping or falling over frequently
- Sore, tired, red or watery eyes
- Excessive blinking
- Rubbing eyes/covering one eye
- Periods of blurry vision
- Slow copying from a board
- Holding books very close
- An inward or outward turning eye on occasion or constantly – particularly when tired
- Skipping or jumping of words and lines when reading
- Using a finger to read
- Avoiding reading
Top tips for good eye health using vision therapy techniques
Tips for sports:
“Vision therapy activities in sport are structured exercises designed to improve the specific visual skills needed for a sport. For example, in tennis, overhead shots require locating exactly where the ball is while looking upwards and aiming the eyes in this position; this is not a natural skill but it can be improved through vision therapy.” Some examples of general activities for sport:
- ”Looking soft” while participating in sport encourages better use of peripheral awareness. Looking too intently at an attacking player for example may mean that you miss an opportunity to pass to a player in your periphery.
- Practice paying attention to the amount of “space” or distance between objects and people is another way of developing peripheral awareness and an understanding where things are in space.
- Take the opportunity to practice these techniques at least every second day even when not playing to make sure they more likely to be used when you need it.
Tips for kids:
“Development can vary immensely from child to child; it is perhaps not as well known that vision also develops. This means that vision can be trained or learned through appropriate structured vision therapy. For example, when reading, a child must keep their place along a line of text (tracking skills) as well as keep the page in focus (focussing skills). A child with tracking or focussing difficulties is therefore more likely to have difficulty with reading.”
- Draw numbers at random on a blackboard and have a child draw a continuous line to connect them, trying to avoid head movements (helps to develop sequencing skills).
- Have the child look up, down, left and right with the eyes only (no head movement) in time to a beat. May help stimulate simple tracking skills.
- Read the first and last letters on every line down a page of text. Have the child do this without using fingers to keep place. Can help develop more accurate eye teaming skills.
Tips for adults:
“The modern lifestyle is definitely having an impact on our eyes. Here are some exercises that adults can do to help maintain their eye health.”
- Take regular ‘visual breaks’ when working at computers or with other screens. During these breaks focus on things at different distances.
- Scan all four corners of a room with your eyes, while keeping your head completely still.
- Make sure your workspace is well lit when working on screens.