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Little Evidence Vision Therapy Works For Kids

Armen Hareyan's picture

Vision Therapy

Vision therapy has evolved into an alternative therapeutic specialization using eye exercises designed to improve or maintain good visual function, often administered in an optometrist's office at the cost of several thousand dollars for a complete treatment course.

Children's eyes are their windows on learning. When parents see their children struggling to learn in school they rightly seek out answers. They may stumble across something called vision therapy.

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"The truth is, there's no clinical evidence showing that vision therapy works," said Dr. Skip Freedman, Executive Medical Director for AllMed Healthcare Management. "Mostly the evidence is anecdotal, and studies supporting vision therapy tend to lack the scientific rigor necessary for clinically-based medical practice."

Yet enthusiastic practitioners, including optometrists, often may make exaggerated claims and even suggest that vision therapy can remedy learning disabilities, including dyslexia, reading disorders and attention deficit disorder. Parents desperate to help their children succeed in school are often encouraged by enthusiastic practitioners with anecdotal evidence that promises similar results for their child. Despite such hearsay and enthusiasm, vision therapy unfortunately doesn't bear up under the scrutiny of evidence-based medicine.

There is no doubt that the learning problems children exhibit are real and deserve some form of therapy. Still, numerous studies show no connection between visual perception and reading disability. "Parents should understand that their children may have language and cognitive issues involving brain neurology, not eye problems," said Freedman.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology agrees. A policy statement by the academy advises against using treatment approaches that "lack objective, scientifically established efficacy." It also notes that there are no known visual causes for learning disabilities and no known visual treatments. Instead of vision therapy, the academy advises parents with children who struggle educationally to seek out appropriate educational diagnostic evaluations and services. "No one can really say whether vision therapy works or not, because studies haven't been properly conducted," said Dr. Freedman. "But we do know that by seeking out vision therapy, parents are actually delaying any improvement in their children's educational performance."