By Sarah McGoldrick
A child’s challenging behaviour can often be difficult to understand, particularly when there doesn’t seem to be a reason behind it. Many children will act out in class, fidget or receive poor marks despite being otherwise excellent students.
Sometimes this type of behaviour can be attributed to health issues such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But what parents, educators and even medical professionals can often miss is a simple eye condition that may be leaving children feeling frustrated.
It can also lead to children being prescribed behaviour controlling medication they would otherwise not need.
Dr. Angela Peddle of Vaughan Family Vision Care has been helping parents and children deal with vision problems through in-office vision care designed to get kids back on track through Optometric Vision Therapy.
Peddle said the first thing her team does is examine the eye through a Binocular Vision Exam (BVE).
“We want to look at how the eyes work together, track together and focus together,” she said adding based on the results a vision therapy plan is developed to help get the eyes working as a team again.
BVE is still new to Canada which until recently had no medical professionals offering it to young patients. Peddle received her training in the United States where the therapy is a regular part of children’s eye care. A recent study the Children’s Eye Center, University of San Diego, uncovered a relationship between a common vision disorder, convergence insufficiency, and ADHD.
The study suggested that children with convergence insufficiency were three times as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than children without the disorder.
Peddle said many children go misdiagnosed because parents don’t take their children for routine eye exams. She adds eyecare professionals, parents and teachers should review a simple check list to see what symptoms children are displaying.
Peddle said vision therapy should be looked at as similar to occupational therapy. It’s designed to improve the work environment for children using various strategies and methods.
The therapy happens right in Peddle’s Vaughan office. A large room similar to a classroom is filled with visuals and a variety of stations for children to work at with their vision therapists.
On the wall when you first enter the room is a large board with the images of ‘graduates’ who have successfully completed their programs.
A variety of tools are used to conduct the therapy based on the patient’s individual needs:
• Therapeutic lenses
• Occluders or patches
• Electronic targets with timing mechanisms
• Balance boards
Patients are also given homework which may include practice sheets and activities to continue their in-classroom therapy off-site.
The ECP is in constant communication with parents to ensure benchmarks are being met.
The goal of the program is not to make it feel like school for children but to help them feel comfortable with their vision health and proud of their achievements.
“We try to make it as fun as possible,” said Peddle adding when kids see their picture on the board of graduates it empowers them to continue to stay focused on improving
their eye health.
“I worked with a young boy, age 8, who was on the autism spectrum (high functioning). He was referred by an occupational therapist who noted that he would consistently close an
eye when working at his desk,” she said. “After a full binocular vision evaluation, it was found that he had a severe convergence insufficiency and deficiency of saccades (poor eye tracking). His eyes weren’t teaming together, resulting in double vision at near.”
She said to avoid this confusion, the young boy would close an eye at near, thus eliminating the double image. They began a 20-week program of in-office vision therapy. Within
eight weeks his symptoms were reducing and his reading level was at grade level. By the end of 20 weeks, he had perfect depth perception, eye teaming, and eye tracking for his age.
“He was comfortable reading and writing, and no longer saw double at any distance. His mother remarked -with tears in her eyes- that his reading skills were now above grade
level and that he was actually asking her for more books,” she said.
Peddle says the eyecare industry is slowly beginning to take Vision Therapy more serious and ECPs are adopting it as part of their practice.
“People are starting to see the benefits,” she said adding schools of Optometry within Canada are beginning to integrate vision therapy for children into the curriculum.
In addition social media has also begun to play a role in parental education and support.
Several boards now exist on Facebook offering parents advice and resources including one by Vaughan Family Vision Therapy. Here the latest news and resources are posted for parents to access. It’s also a place where Peddle and her team share the successes of their students and tokens of gratitude including cards from graduates.
“The feedback is fantastic. Many children have gone from a grade one level to grade five in as little as 20 weeks,” she said. “You see their confidence soar.”
By Sarah McGoldrick