Kids Seeing Hope, Progress
By Scott Klepach Jr.
Kids face enormous pressures when they start each school year, with new challenges coming their way every day.
Since we rely on our senses to meet these challenges and learn and grow, it’s important to understand potential developmental problems that may arise in school-age children.
Our eyes are no exception.
For many, prescription glasses take care of poor vision. But for others, eye problems might develop that glasses or contact lenses can’t completely solve. One option more people are turning to is vision therapy.
Vision therapy has been an option for some years now, but it has been gaining popularity as research and technology develops to provide new ways of recognizing the many eye problems that exist and how to treat them.
Consider it physical therapy for not just the eyes, but the brain as well, says Dr. Benjamin Winters, an optometrist at Family Vision Care at Costco in Union Gap. Winters also practices vision therapy with Dr. Seth Thomas Copeland at Washington State Vision Center in Yakima.
The center opened last year to treat kids and adults, but its particular focus has been treating vision problems in school-age children. Although some of the kids who receive vision therapy already have prescription lenses, others have 20/20 eyesight, passing school vision screenings. The common link is that they all still struggle with reading and school performance.
Vision therapy is made up of weekly sessions at the clinic with exercises at home four times a week. The amount of time varies with each child depending on their eye problems; many kids are there for at least six months.
When Teresa Obert noticed reading problems in her son, Henry, she took him to vision therapy. After a few months in vision therapy, Henry, now 10, made improvements and gained confidence.
“He couldn’t control the lens that focuses the eye,” says Obert. “He’s had the most progress there. Like a camera, the eye has to focus and refocus, and he couldn’t control that.”
Jett Black became good at memorizing information at school, but he also struggled with reading. It turns out that he was using his memory to compensate for his eye problems.
“We had him at four different eye doctors,” says his mother, Angela Noel. “He has 20/20 vision with a slight astigmatism. But something wasn’t right with his vision.”
One of Black’s difficulties is the ability to look at a shape and remember it. In his case, reading is difficult because each letter is a shape.
“He’s phonetically strong, but sight wise he is remembering patterns differently,” Noel says.
Black, 11, is also working on tracking, which will allow him to smoothly read each line of text.
“It’s still bumpy,” says Black, but being in therapy for several months had made reading a lot smoother.
Black also experiences suppression, when one eye shuts down due to the stress of trying to work at reading or receiving information.
“When his left eye is stressed, it shuts off,” Noel says. “It’s tough in school all day long. He gets exhausted.”
Black, who is a fifth-grader at Naches Valley Primary School, recognizes that when this happens, he gets irritable and tired. His teachers and friends have detected a positive shift in his attitude since he started vision therapy, and his grades have improved.
Shelby DeVore has also struggled with reading since Kindergarten. Many doctors told her and her mother, Lynn DeVore, that her eyes were fine. Yet she was unable to see the words in front of her, especially if they contained more than five letters.
Shelby has become a tactile learner because of her difficulty seeing.
“When she holds her pencil, she pushes on the paper so hard to feel what she’s writing. She can’t see it,” says Lynn. “It all came down to vision problems.”
Lynn says the goal is to have Shelby’s eyes work together. “They’re trying to teach her brain to do things automatically,” she says.
Unlike Shelby, Dominic Urlacher could see the words on the page, but he used to read very slowly.
“He’s always been tired by mid-morning, and he’d go take a nap,” says his mother, Sharon.
Dominic, 10, also had trouble in math. He found some improvement when he was prescribed glasses for his far-sightedness a year ago, but “it didn’t cut down on his tiredness, or learning,” says Sharon.
Dominic’s self-esteem was affected by his challenges, which include suppression and convergence insufficiency – essentially, his eyes not working together.
But Dominic is the very first graduate of the center in Yakima. He has completed his therapy program and can apply what he has learned in the years ahead.
The goal is not to have children in vision therapy forever. Instead, says Winters, it’s about teaching them to be aware of their eye problems and giving them the tools to fix them after they finish therapy.
“We’re excited [about] the journey,” says Lynn DeVore. “And we’ll definitely be excited to see the finish line.”
Filed under Featured Stories, From the Mag, Health