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Dr. Richard H. Fischer Vision Training Center
28 Riverside Drive Binghamton, NY 13905
(607) 724-3641 email

In The News

Vision therapy solves problems that glasses can't

By Scott Rockefeller
Press & Sun-Bulletin

Jaclyn 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.

Krystle Rozelle, 10, of Bainbridge uses an
Accommotrac during her vision therapy

Jaclyn 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 in class.

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 said.

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.

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