Research shows that one in four school-aged children have an undiagnosed visual problem. Standard eye tests don’t assess for visual processing difficulties. An evaluation by a behavioural optometrist is required for accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.
So what actually is behavioural optometry?
In short, behavioural optometry is a specialised field of optometry - in which not just eyesight - but how the brain processes what the eyes are seeing is assessed. Also known as neurodevelopmental or functional optometry, it is a multidisciplinary approach that incorporates the physical, neurological, and developmental aspects of vision.
Where a standard optometrist concentrates on just eyesight and ocular health, a behavioural optometrist goes further and delves more into the brain-eye connection.
Why is this type of optometry important?
Of the five senses, vision is by far the most critical for learning. It is also the most dominant sense, with the brain relying on vision for 80 percent of the information it requires to operate. Optimal learning conditions are when both eyes work efficiently together and the information pathway to the brain is clear. If there is (even a slight) disconnect between the visual system and the brain, the effects on learning can be dramatic.
Eyesight is just one of the 17 different skills that make up the process of vision. Vision also includes the mental process the brain uses to determine the what/where/why of any specific stimulus. This is a learned ability from birth and will continue through life - but any developmental delays at a young age can lead to vision-related attention and learning difficulties. However, the good news is - because every skill is learnt - it can therefore be taught.
So, behavioural optometry offers a significant chance for those who have vision-related developmental delays, eye conditions such as strabismus (aka turned eye) or amblyopia (aka lazy eye) and learning difficulties to retrain the brain utilising a number of techniques, including glasses and/or vision therapy.
Ok, but what is vision therapy?
Vision therapy, also known as visual training, is aimed at re-teaching the visual process for those who missed the initial, natural opportunities to solidify these foundations (due to developmental delays or congenital disorders). Simply put, it is a series of specific activities to help a person to learn, observe and change their visual process. Contrary to its name, it is not just eye exercises.
The key purpose of vision therapy is to help the brain talk to the eyes in the most effective way possible, and involves use of the entire body through speaking, writing, or physical movement. Exercises can include balancing, throwing, writing simple words and utilising specialist computer software to train the brain. You can read more about it here.Learn more about vision therapy
How do I know if my child needs to see a behavioural optometrist?
When a child is not reaching their full academic potential, it is important to consider not only how clearly they can see, but also how they are making sense of what they see.
Children with diagnosed dyslexia, dyspraxia, children on the autism spectrum, those with attention disorders, and children with auditory and visual processing disorders can benefit from an assessment by a behavioural optometrist. Research shows that 80% of children who have reading difficulties also lack the basic visual skills required for reading. Addressing these binocular vision or visual processing problems can have a profound effect on a child’s ability to learn.
Each patient is unique and a comprehensive evaluation is required to determine the specific areas needing treatment to encourage learning development and remove visual roadblocks.
The results of the evaluation help develop a unique and individual vision therapy treatment program. Those patients who are motivated, willing to practice and follow instructions achieve significant improvements. See here for more information on specific signs and symptoms of visual processing problems.