First we need to understand what vision is. Nearly all humans are born with the potential for good eyesight, but vision – the ability to identify, interpret and understand what is seen – is learned and developed, starting at birth.
In learning to walk, a child begins by creeping, crawling, standing, walking with assistance, and finally, walking unaided. A similar process from gross to fine motor control takes place in the development of vision.
One visual skill builds on another, step-by-step as we grow. But many people miss a step, or do not complete a step, or must begin to perform school or other visually demanding tasks before an acceptable foundation of basic visual skill is in place.
Science indicates that we do not “see” with our eyes or our brain; rather, vision is the reception and processing of visual information by the total person. Since two-thirds of all information we receive is visual, it becomes clear that efficient visual skills are a critical part of learning, working and even recreation. Athletes, for example, use visual training for improved performance in their sport.
Developing visual skills includes learning to use both eyes together effectively. Having both eyes move, align, fixate and focus as a team enhances your ability to interpret and understand the potential visual information that is available to you.
Intelligent persons who are very highly motivated can be good achievers, even with very poor visual skills and abilities, but at untold cost in wasted energy and unnecessary effort and stress. For those who are less motivated, even one or two deficient visual skills can produce enough stress and frustration to create a non-achiever.
The visual skills which can be developed and enhanced through visual training include:
- Tracking: The ability to follow a moving object smoothly and accurately with both eyes, such as a ball in flight or moving vehicles in traffic.
- Fixation: The ability to quickly and accurately locate and inspect with both eyes a series of stationary objects, one after another, such as moving from word to word while reading.
- Focus Change: The ability to look quickly from far to near and vice versa without momentary blur, such as looking from the chalkboard to a book or from the dashboard to cars on the street.
- Depth Perception: The ability to judge relative distances of objects and to see and move accurately in three-dimensional space, such as when hitting a ball or parking a car.
- Peripheral Vision: The ability to monitor and interpret what is happening around you while you are attending to a specific central visual task; the ability to use visual information perceived from over a large area.
- Binocularity: The ability to use both eyes together, smoothly, equally, simultaneously and accurately.
- Maintaining attention: The ability to keep doing any particular skill or activity with ease and with interfering with the performance of other skills.
- Near Vision Acuity: The ability to clearly see, inspect, identify and understand objects at near distances, within arm’s length.
- Distance Acuity: The ability to clearly see, inspect, identify and understand objects at a distance. People with 20/20 distance sight still may have visual problems.
- Visualization: The ability to form mental images in your “mind’s eye,” retain or store them for future recall, or for synthesis into new mental images beyond your current or past direct experiences.
Optometric visual training, sometimes called vision therapy or VT, is that part of optometric care devoted to developing, improving and enhancing people’s visual performance. Vision therapy can benefit people of all ages. Optometrists have developed and used visual training for several decades to:
- Prevent vision and eye problems from developing.
- Develop the visual skills needed to achieve more effectively at school, work or play.
- Enhance functioning on tasks demanding sustained visual effort
- Remediate or compensate for vision and eye problems which have already developed.
Visual training also has proven to be a remarkably effective tool in helping people with learning-related visual problems. Many problems in learning to read and write are made worse by poorly developed visual skills.
Dozens of experimental programs involving thousands of children and adults demonstrate that when visual skills are enhanced through visual training, learning is easier, reading levels rise, and in some cases, IQ scores have increased. Building visual skills also increases the ability to visualize, conceptualize and to create.
Vision therapy (visual training, vision training) is an individualized supervised treatment program designed to correct visual-motor and/or perceptual-cognitive deficiencies which have various causes, such as:
- inadequate sensorimotor development
- trauma to the nervous system (i.e., birth injury, brain trauma, closed head trauma, etc.)
- in some cases, contributing hereditary factors (i.e., crossed-eyes, wandering eyes)
Vision therapy trains the entire visual system which includes eyes, brain and body. However, it is important to understand that vision therapy is a form of neurological training or rehabilitation (it can be compared to some forms of occupational therapy or physical therapy). The goal of vision therapy is to train the patient’s brain to use the eyes to receive information effectively, comprehend it quickly and react appropriately.
Vision therapy sessions include procedures designed to enhance the brain’s ability to control eye alignment, eye movements, focusing abilities, and eye teamwork (binocular vision). Visual-motor skills and endurance are developed through the use of specialized computer and optical devices, including therapeutic lenses, prisms and filters. During the final stages of therapy, the patient’s newly acquired visual skills are reinforced and made automatic through repetition and by integration with motor and cognitive skills.