Autism: A Cure? No. Improvement? Yes

Can Vision Therapy cure autism? Absolutely not, said Dr. Rick Graebe, a behavioral optometrist in Versailles.

But can VT, a kind of physical therapy for the eyes, brain and body, improve performance and alleviate symptoms? Dr. Graebe has witnessed it many times.

“I don’t like to deal with labels,” he said. “I focus on behaviors and try to find a way to improve the lives of our patients.”

Dr. Graebe has studied Vision Therapy’s effect on autism since reading “Seeing Through New Eyes” by optometrist Melvin Kaplan. The book documents his success treating children with developmental disabilities.

Plus, Dr. Graebe recently attended a seminar in Tennessee led by Nancy Torgerson, a Vision Therapist optometrist from Washington State who has helped children with autism.

That research helps in Dr. Graebe’s practice where he often works with children who show behaviors associated with people on the autism spectrum.

Like children who won’t make eye contact.

That could be related to an inability to balance central (focal) vision with peripheral (ambient) vision.

People on the autism spectrum are easily overwhelmed by their surroundings. This stressful overstimulation often leads to tunnel vision, which manifests itself in obsessive behavior.

Vision Therapy specializes in integrating the focal and ambient aspects of the visual system. Patients perform a series of sequential, non-academic activities that children find engaging and fun such as pencil and puzzle games.

While helping the visual system become more integrated, treatment also focuses on visual sequential skills.

Put their socks on over their shoes is an example of sequential struggles.

Dr. Graebe uses pictures for patients to practice these skills. For example, one card would show a child opening a refrigerator, the next would show eggs spilled on the kitchen floor, and the last would show an adult cleaning the mess.

While these sequential skills come naturally to most, children on the autistic spectrum need help developing those skills. Dr. Graebe augments the learning by asking patients to tell a story about what they’ve seen.

These skills are crucial in school and social situations.

“They need to practice these skills with input from a therapist,” Dr. Graebe said. “When visual processing skills improve, so does schoolwork. This reduces stress, and leads to better performance and to better health.