Neuro-Visual Therapy (vision training/therapy/rehabilitation) is a subspecialty in optometry. It is a prescribed treatment used to improve, enhance and/or develop visual function so that the visual system runs more efficiently and automatically. This is done by building strong, faster, more connected neural pathways regardless of age. We could call it brain therapy!
Patients learn to use their visual abilities in new or more efficient ways by participating in various vision exercises that utilize the use of lenses, prisms, filters, patches and other materials and equipment. Exercises are designed to bring a skill or set of skills to conscious awareness, practice using those skills to mastery so they become automatic.
The overall goal of treatment is to alleviate signs and symptoms of vision problems, maximize visual and overall performance and comfort, meet the patient's needs and improve the patient's quality of life.
How can we Change Brain Function through Neuro-Visual Therapy?
A neuron is a nerve cell that sends and receives electrical signals within the body. A neuron may send and receive electrical output signals to muscle neurons and receive electrical input signals from sensory neurons, as well as signal between neurons.
Throughout life, neural networks reorganize and reinforce themselves in response to new experiences. Body-mind interaction is what stimulates brain cells to grow and connect with each other in complex ways. The human brain continues to grow and improve with exercise.
The quantity of neurons do not multiply, but new dendritic connections can be formed at any age. The more a pathway is used, the faster the transmission of the information. Each nerve cell is a generator of behavior, learning and experience.
Vision is the brain’s way of touching the world. – Merleau-Ponty
A good vision therapy program works within a framework of developmental hierarchies. It is important for a patient to self discover through the exercises prescribed in order to derive meaning and form a foundation that they can use in familiar, as well as new, visual situations.
In physical therapy, you relearn or enhance the use of various muscles and body parts that are not functioning correctly and/or causing a great deal of discomfort so that you can use those parts more efficiently. This is a small part of what we do in regards to the focusing and eye movement muscles.
Neural-visual therapy is more similar to occupational therapy. Occupational therapy relies on neural plasticity, or the ability to enhance brain function. In occupational therapy, which strives to restore, reinforce and enhance performance, they work to enhance brain and body function through exercises. This could be the definition of neural-visual therapy.
In vision therapy, individuals relearn or enhance the use of different brain (or thought) processes to alleviate visual discomfort and use visual skills more efficiently and integrate them with other senses more effectively.
In fact, there are many similarities between occupational therapy and vision therapy, particularly in the area of visual perception, eye-hand coordination and visual motor integration, though occupational therapists do not receive near the depth of training in vision nor are they trained in the use of lenses, prism and filters. Many patients that have sensory integration, balance and proprioceptive delays are also being co-managed with occupational therapists.
Vision therapy is commonly used for (but not limited to) the following:
- Accommodative dysfunctions
- Ocular motor dysfunctions
- Binocular dysfunctions
- Visual motor disorders
- Visual perceptual disorders
- Learning related visual problems
- Sensory Integration
- Traumatic brain injury rehabilitation
- Sports vision enhancement
- Myopia control
Who Can Benefit From Vision Therapy?
Anybody at any age who has been determined to have a visual problem, developmental delay or variable visual performance in school, work or play can benefit from vision therapy.
Anyone who feels they are not meeting their potential or working harder than they should to meet their potential.
Other individuals may be very symptomatic of vision dysfunction with headaches, fatigue and blurry or double vision.
Anyone that has experienced whiplash or a concussion regardless of if imaging came back normal and feels that they function differently after the accident.
Examples of Distinct Populations that could Absolutely Benefit from Neuro-Visual Therapy:
- Learning Disabled
- Developmentally Delayed
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Head Injured
Vision therapy is not limited to young children.
Patients of ALL ages can benefit from vision therapy. Even many professional athletes use vision therapy to speed their visual reaction times and improve hand-eye coordination. Computer users who notice they are experiencing eye strain can potentially benefit from vision therapy to reduce discomfort. Mature adults that have suffered strokes or adults that have been in car accidents and suffered head trauma can benefit from vision therapy. Adults that want to improve performance because of career changes or going back to school.
Our Neuro-Visual Therapeutic Services
Neuro-Visual Therapeutic (NVT) Programs are individually designed by the doctor to meet the needs of each patient. They are geared to provide the greatest benefit in the targeted areas of significant challenge for each individual.
A neuro-visual therapy session is one-on-one with a trained vision therapist or doctor. Our staff works as a team and meet on a weekly basis to stay cohesive. The therapy schedule is set to deliberately allow for each patient to work with different therapists. In this way, each patient will benefit from the insights and expertise of more than one person during the course of the program. There are some exceptions in which an individual needs the consistency of one therapist, but the goal would be for that patient to work well with different people, since it better equips them to function well outside of the therapy room.
Each NVT Program consists of specific procedures, exercises, activities, perceptual and logic games arranged in such a way to increase the individual’s visual awareness, visual efficiency, visual processing, visual-auditory integration, visual memory and visually guided movement of the student. NVT Programs are designed to be fun, challenging and confidence building.
Due to the pervasive nature of vision, visual problems can be varied. Even if the diagnosis is the same, the symptoms can be very different. A good analogy is that the signs and symptoms of vision problems act like the Table of Elements. There are more than 100 different ways to put elements together to form molecules. Some elements cannot exist together. Others, depending on the combination, can produce quite different molecules. Individuals are the same way. They are all unique and combine signs and symptoms of visual problems to manifest in hundreds of different ways. Since every program is individualized to meet these needs, there are hundreds of ways to create a NVT Program.
Some examples of the core goals of various NVT Programs are listed but not limited to the following:
Vision Related Learning Difficulties - Patients with vision related learning problems have NVT Programs emphasizing the fundamental visual input skills and visual processing skills required for efficient reading, writing, spelling and mathematics.
Sensory-Motor Integration/Vision Developmental Delays - Patients with sensory-motor integration challenges will participate in a NVT Program that emphasizes whole body integration with vision trained as the dominant sense. Body knowledge, central-peripheral integration, eye-hand coordination, visual spatial skills, visual-auditory-vestibular-tactile integration and visual-perceptual skills will be at the core of the NVT Program.
Strabismus and/or Amblyopia - For patients with the specific diagnoses of amblyopia or strabismus, NVT Programs emphasize balance between the two eyes and include activities that enhance binocularity, depth perception, visual spatial skills, tracking, focusing and central-peripheral integration.
Sports Performance Enhancement – Speed of visual performance, reaction time, visual endurance, accuracy and flexibility in eye teaming, tracking and focusing, central-peripheral integration, eye-hand coordination, depth perception and visual spatial skills are fundamental for NVT Programs designed for Sports Vision Enhancement.
Neuro-Visual Rehabilitation – Patients who have suffered an acquired brain injured from an accident, stroke, tumor or degenerative disease benefit from NVT Programs emphasizing visual-vestibular integration, visual-motor integration, central-peripheral awareness, tracking, focusing and eye teaming flexibility and stability, visual perception skills, as well as visual memory and recall.
How Long Does Treatment Take?
Vision therapy can take anywhere from 6 weeks to a year or more before vision problems are remediated. Many problems can be improved dramatically over 10-15 weekly sessions (session length is determined by your doctor and may vary). Certain dysfunctions, like strabismus, traumatic brain injury, significant developmental delays or severe perceptual problems, can take the longest to treat. Average length of vision therapy is 4-6 months.
The benefit of vision therapy for individuals that suffered from vision problems is a lifelong change in overall performance, comfort and quality of life.