Perfect eyesight does not always mean a perfect visual system. Dr. Rick Graebe encounters that truth every day.
Dr. Graebe, a behavioral optometrist in Versailles, treats the visual system with Vision Therapy, a kind of physical therapy for the eyes, brain and body.
Because upwards of 85% of what children learn in school is presented visually, many students struggle because of an undeveloped visual system.
Symptoms include reading and closeup work avoidance, inability to read across the line of the page and skipping lines, and poor penmanship.
Problems with the visual system are not typically caught by an eye chart test. A person can have 20-20 eyesight and still have trouble with the visual system.
Often, problems begin with visual efficiency – the ability of the eyes to move, track and work in tandem while reading.
A test to diagnose the problem takes no more than 90 seconds. Still, Dr. Graebe points out, “only about 10% of eye doctors even check for this.”
“Patients ask me, ‘How come nobody ever saw that before?’” Dr. Graebe said.
Another component to the visual system is visual processing – the cognitive side of vision. It’s like looking at hieroglyphics. We can see the images perfectly, but we can’t understand them.
Children who must concentrate to tell their right from left are struggling with visual processing. This shows up in confusion when writing or reading with letters such as “b” and “d.”
The final piece to the visual system is sensory integration.
This helps the whole body work together to decode words while ignoring outside distractions.
A common sign of poor sensory integration is sloppy handwriting.
To integrate the senses, Dr. Graebe’s therapy toolkit includes a metronome, balance beams, colored lenses, trampolines, prisms, computer programs and eye charts.
That’s why children describe Vision Therapy as fun. Instead of only academic exercises, fun games and puzzles are part of the treatment.
But does it work?
“Yes and yes,” Dr. Graebe said. “(Without therapy), kids may never reach their full potential. Because the underlying skills to learning are flawed, it’s like trying to race with 20-pound weights on your feet.”
His favorite part of the process is the confidence the therapy instills in children.
“It opens doors to them and changes their lives,” he said. “They say, ‘Hey, I can do this.’”