Vision therapy solves problems that glasses
By Scott Rockefeller
Press & Sun-Bulletin
Kimmes' academic struggles started early on. In first grade
she had trouble learning to read and was placed in reading
recovery. By second grade, Jaclyn was complaining to her mother,
Lori, that the board was blurry in class.
"I was noticing that she would read the first half of
a line and then jump down to the next line," said Kimmes,
of White Sulphur Springs, near Liberty.
Rozelle, 10, of Bainbridge uses an
Accommotrac during her vision therapy
was having a number of other problems with her eyes. On eye charts
she would read letters out of order. One day, in the car with her
mother, Jaclyn spelled out the letters of a Mobil gas station, "B-O-M-I-L."
While some of Jaclyn's teachers thought the girl was just being
lazy, Lori Kimmes knew there was something wrong.
"She was struggling all the way along," Lori Kimmes said.
During Jaclyn's second semester of third grade, Kimmes and her husband,
John, decided to have their daughter see a vision therapist. They
made the hour and a half drive to Dr. Richard H. Fischer in Binghamton
for two initial examinations.
After about four hours of observation, Fischer was able to diagnose
a number of eye problems Jaclyn had that could explain why she had
scored high on an IQ test, but was struggling with her grades.
Jaclyn was diagnosed with binocular dysfunction (not using both
eyes together properly), which led to suppression (essentially turning
one eye off and favoring the other.)
In between the two initial visits, Lori and John Kimmes decided
vision therapy would be the way to go for Jaclyn.
An estimated 10 million children in the United States suffer from
problems with their vision, ranging from simple nearsightedness
to more complex problems of the type that plagued Jaclyn.
Good vision requires more than good eyesight. Kids who can see the
blackboard perfectly may still have vision problems that make it
impossible for them to read. And simple eye tests in school won't
catch many problems.
Fischer, a behavioral optometrist for more than 35 years, has a
variety of equipment in his Riverside Drive office. And though all
of Fischer's gadgets serve a specific function, they all go back
to one common principle, he said.
"We are helping someone become aware of what their vision is
doing," he said.
In addition to in-office eye exercises, Fischer has patients do
exercises on their own as a supplement.
And Lori Kimmes said the change in Jaclyn's academic performance
was almost immediate after she started vision therapy. Her third
grade teacher reported increased confidence and willing to participate
Jaclyn, now 10 and in fifth grade, has visited Dr. Fischer twice
a week, half an hour per visit, for more than two years. Jaclyn
is scoring 80s and 90s in most of her classes.
Lori Kimmes, whose younger daughter Jessica, 7, also does vision
therapy with Dr. Fischer, credits her daughter's academic turn-around
with the skills she learned in vision therapy.
"It's wonderful," she said. "It's a shame more teachers
don't know about it. They just basically thought she was lazy."
Fischer doesn't mind taking the credit for helping Jaclyn know what
was wrong with her eyes. He also doesn't mind being responsible
for giving Jaclyn the tools to improve her vision beyond clarity.
But the bulk of Jaclyn's success rests on the girl, he said.
"We don't teach kids or adults anything, they learn,"
he said. "My job is to set up the situation so they can learn."
Some are skeptical
Optometrists can become board-certified in vision development after
three years of practice, a course of specialized study, a written
exam and an oral interview by the College of Optometrists in Vision
Development. These specialists say vision development problems are
often misdiagnosed as attention deficit disorder. Many of the symptoms
are the same, and the clues of vision problems are easy to miss.
"The problems we're talking about are more subtle, and more
difficult to detect," said Stephen Miller, executive director
of the College of Optometrists in Vision Development.
Not everyone in the eye care community is convinced of the wonders
of vision therapy. The American Academy of Ophthalmology, representing
eye specialists with medical degrees, has issued a position paper
saying, "Visual problems are rarely responsible for learning
difficulties." The academy's doctors believe vision therapy
and eye exercises can correct some eye problems, but generally won't
help kids with learning disabilities.
"We feel that medically there is not good evidence that a learning
disability is caused by an eye problem," said Dr. Stuart Dankner,
a pediatric ophthalmologist and a spokesman for the academy.
Patients see results
While the issue of a learning disability doesn't affect Mary Jo
Long, the Afton lawyer can speak of the benefits of vision therapy.
Long participated in vision therapy for seven months in 2001 and
2002, but was forced to stop. However, Long was able to resume her
therapy a few weeks ago.
"I didn't regress all the way back, but I did lose some things,"
Long said of her hiatus.
Similar to Jaclyn Kimmes, Long has trouble using both eyes. While
she didn't struggle in school, she developed chronic neck and shoulder
problems because her head was leaning to the side.
This was directly related to her only using one eye to see, Fischer
In Long's few weeks of therapy she is already noticing the benefits
of "knowing how to turn her weak eye on." On her 40-minute
drive back to Afton, Long is treated with sights of textured trees
and beautiful landscapes across Interstate 88.
"I didn't even know I had depth perception," she said.
"It feels good because, at my age, very little gets better."
-- The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Mary Jo Long of Afton does her vision therapy with the help of Vision
Training Center employee Timothy Gleason.
There's more to healthy vision than 20/20 eyesight!
more about symptoms
of visual problems which
school and sports success.