On so many occasions, I am asked about what types of individuals enroll in vision therapy. Many assume that it is just school aged children, who must have some learning disability or decreased IQ to cause them to be doing so poorly in school. This could not be further from the truth. We work with all ages, our oldest being a 72-year-old former high school English teacher, and all intellectual ability levels, most at the higher end.
We recently worked with an adult patient whom we will call, “Brian”. “Brian” is a highly intelligent and articulate 26-year-old medical student that get this, hated, no, despised, reading! He felt this way since he was a young child in grade school. He was very honest by saying that he disliked school so much and was so frustrated by it; he got in trouble, a lot of trouble and made some very poor choices. Fortunately, he had a good support system and was able to realize that inside this person that struggled so much with learning through reading was someone that loved to learn and was quite smart. He knew it would be a challenge, but decided that studying medicine was a passion he was determined to pursue.
We first started treating, “Brian” in November of 2013 after he wanted to figure out how he was going to be able to pass his boards for medical school. He knew the material, but there was just never enough time for him to complete the exam. Dr. Jeffrey Schmakel, O.D., a developmental optometrist with the College of Optometrist and Vision Development (COVD) diagnosed him with Pursuit/Saccadic Eye Movement Deficiencies and an Accommodative Deficiency.
These diagnoses were not a result of his eyes not being strong enough. Rather, the connections from the brain to the muscles of the eyes were limited or ineffective, causing either too much or too little input for the eyes to function properly. These diagnoses caused him to skip words or lines, lose his place and make it very difficult to adjust his focus between the near and the far. As a result, he would have to read, re-read and re-read again in order to make sense out of any of his reading material. As a child and teenager, he remedied this by just avoiding reading and near work and got into trouble instead. As an adult, with determination and a passion, he pushed his way through despite the challenge.
Dr. Schmakel recommended that “Brian” complete The Sensory Learning Program and the Vision Improvement Program. The Sensory Learning Program is a non-cognitive intervention that uses light, sound and motion to create new neural connections in the brain. Dr. Schmakel always recommends completing this program before vision therapy because it gets the brain “primed and ready” for the more cognitive based Vision Improvement Program.
After completing The Sensory Learning Program, “Brian” reported that he was noticing that he was starting to track better and felt more focused and calm. Soon after, he started the intensive Vision Improvement Program. For 10 weeks, three times per week, he worked one-on-one with me in our office and four days a week at home on the prescribed activities. I must say; I love working with the kids in the program, but enjoy working with the adults too.
The younger ones are not always sure why their parents are making them do the program, but are motivated to work for the incentives and prizes. Adults, on the other hand know exactly what they are doing and are highly motivated. “Brian” did everything asked of him and then some. About half-way through the program he told me that, for the first time in his life, he wanted to read a book. I recommended that he read an easier book. He agreed and read and enjoyed Charlotte’s Web for the first time. The next book was Stuart Little. I sent him home with that, but he returned saying that he knew he was ready for more. He chose the over 600 page book, Game of Thrones. He read it within a few weeks and enjoyed the entire process!
“Brian” has successfully completed the program and says that it has been a life changing experience for him. He can read with comprehension, and it no longer takes hours to complete. We also worked heavily on his visualization skills which were also very weak before therapy. He is now able to create some amazing mental images that allow him to effectively remember technical medical terminology and concepts. He is anxious to take and pass his boards this fall. “Brian” is no longer a medical student that hates reading!