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Can Vision Therapy Benefit Your Child?

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If your child has recently been diagnosed with strabismus (crossed eyes), amblyopia ("lazy eye"), or another condition that can impede vision or focus, you may be wondering about his or her available options. Untreated vision problems can often manifest themselves in poor grades, behavioral issues, or even exclusion from social groups, so it's important to find a workable solution for your child as quickly as possible. Glasses can often provide some benefit for the nearsighted or farsighted child -- however, for those dealing with issues affecting the ability to focus or move their eyes, further intervention may be necessary. Read on to determine whether vision therapy is the best way to treat your child's specific medical issues.

What is vision therapy?

Vision therapy (VT) is best described as physical therapy for the muscles of the eye. In addition to training these muscles, VT also helps refine the quality of signals being transmitted between your child's eyes and brain. While there are a number of at-home eye exercises available online, true VT is performed under the supervision of an optometrist or other medical professional, as improperly performing these exercises will pose no benefit (or even cause further muscle strain).

During a VT session, your child may be asked to wear special glasses that cover part of his or her eye, then focus on a picture or word for a period of time. He or she could also be asked to look back and forth from one image to another at a speed set by the optometrist, track the movement of a metronome, or tap colored boxes on a screen. Over time and with regular practice, this therapy can strengthen the eye muscles and help your child gain greater control over his or her eye movement.

Can this therapy help improve your child's vision issues? 

In many cases, vision therapy can be a viable long-term treatment for your child's vision problems -- either alone or in conjunction with other corrective measures (like glasses). The effectiveness of VT will primarily depend upon the specific issues with which your child is dealing.

Strabismus is usually caused by one or more weakened muscles in the affected eye. When your child tries to look directly at an object, the eye affected by strabismus isn't quite able to pull itself into focus with the healthy eye, which can cause double vision or blurriness. As your child tries to compensate for this impeded vision by depending primarily on his or her healthy eye, he or she may strain these muscles and eventually cause damage. Strengthening these muscles through VT can often be enough to permanently treat strabismus without surgery or more invasive intervention. 

Amblyopia is similar to strabismus in that it prevents the eyes from focusing properly, and in some cases may even result from untreated or undiagnosed strabismus. For a child afflicted with this disorder, the brain has already begun to rely more heavily on the healthy eye, allowing the other eye's muscles to atrophy and delay movement. By temporarily placing a patch or cover over your child's healthier eye and forcing the "lazy" eye to focus on words and pictures upon command, an optometrist can slowly strengthen the muscles of this eye to allow it to move in concert with the healthy eye.

Early intervention can often be key to successful VT. The longer your child's eye muscles are permitted to atrophy (or are placed under strain as they attempt to do double their normal workload), the more difficult these entrenched alignment or movement issues can be to correct. If your child has begun to struggle with reading or appears to be especially clumsy for his or her age, an optometrist visit may be in order. For more information, see a website such as