In recent days this question has come up quite a bit in our office. Most often when families and individuals begin noticing positive changes, they are almost upset that they were not aware of this type of intervention sooner. I struggle to give an adequate answer. Many individuals and families have endured quite a lot and ask this question as though they want to know who or what is responsible for keeping vision therapy out of the public eye. Here are a few of the reasons:
On the east and west coasts, vision therapy is more common. In California there are 82 developmental optometrists who are board certified to diagnose and treat vision disorders with vision therapy. In Florida there are 29 and in New York there are 41. In Indiana, I am one of 6 practicing optometrists who are board certified. There are 7 in Kentucky and 10 in Ohio. One might think there are more board certified doctors where the population is greater however the Schools of Optometry located in those states also happen to be very well known for their Binocular Vision and Vision Therapy curriculums and residency programs. While the School of Optometry in Indiana is a very good school, it is not known for it’s Binocular Vision and Vision Therapy programs. I am very proud to be an alumnus of IU and of the IU School of Optometry. In my opinion, Bloomington, Indiana is the best place on earth. However, after graduation I knew that if I wanted to specialize in vision therapy further education was going to be required.
There was a time in the 1980’s it was theorized that vision therapy could be a treatment for dyslexia. In the late 1980’s this theory was found to be wrong. Optometric articles published in 1985 and 1988 state that vision therapy does not directly treat dyslexia or learning disability. This point was reiterated in a 1997 report approved by three national optometric organizations. However, the medical community at large refuses to let developmental optometry live it down. In a very recent 2011 report headed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the point that vision therapy does not treat dyslexia or learning disorder was mentioned 61 times in its 41 pages. There has not been such a claim made within the developmental optometry community in more than 30 years.
3. Half truths
While harping on the point mentioned above, the medical community does acknowledge that vision therapy allows for easier, more comfortable reading by treating vision disorders. That reading and concentration may occur for longer periods of time by treating vision disorders. These statements are made in the 2011 report mentioned above. There is just as much published scientific support for the effectiveness of vision therapy as there is for other forms of therapy such as physical and occupational. To say there is little evidence in support of vision therapy is to deliberately ignore its intended purpose of treating visual disorders not dyslexia or learning disability.
None of these reasons are acceptable to me as answers to the original question of why vision therapy isn’t more common. Never the less they are beyond my control. However, my team and I can control the level of service we provide to the families of our local community and beyond. The success of vision therapy at our office has not gone unnoticed by some area physicians. We value their partnership and continue to expand our referral network. We at Vision Development Center make it our business to provide our community with the same specialized care found 1,000 miles away. We deserve it here too.
- Joan Bauernfiend, OD, FCOVD