Dr. Rick Graebe: How the Visual System Develops

No baby’s room would be complete without a colorful mobile hanging above the crib. But did you know that a black and white mobile actually stimulates a baby’s visual system best?

Along the same lines, floor time and movement for babies and toddlers stimulate all the senses and help integrate them with the visual system.

“The worst thing for a small child is confinement,” said Dr. Rick Graebe, a behavioral optometrist in Versailles.

“Floor time, where children get to move their arms and legs and touch everything they see, builds body awareness so kids know where they are in space.”

This is all part of the sensory integration process so crucial to proper development.

It helps to understand the four stages of visual system development – motor/movement; motor/visual; visual/motor; and visual/language.

Because the macula is not yet developed, newborns don’t really see. Their eyes dart around, responding to shapes and colors.

Babies learn through taste – to learn about an object, a baby puts it in his mouth.

By 2 years old, touch is the dominant sense, so eyes follow movement in the motor/visual stage. To learn about an object, a toddler touches it and the eyes follow that movement.

By age 3, the visual/motor stage, the process is reversed. Now, the eyes guide the body and initiate learning. Sight comes before touch.

The next phase, visual/ language, comes when a child can create images in his head.

“This promotes creativity and imagination,” Dr. Graebe said. “What does Dad’s truck look like? A child can describe the truck, which is how vision connects to language.”

This development is especially important when a child attends school and so much more is asked of the visual system – reading and close-up work. If a child’s visual system has developed properly, he can handle school.

If not – and no one knows exactly why this happens – school can become a struggle.

“When a child needs therapy, it’s really about creating an environment where the brain has a meaningful experience,” Dr. Graebe said.

That’s what happens in Dr. Graebe’s office with Vision Therapy, a kind of physical therapy for the eyes, brain and body.

In this feedback-rich environment, developmental delays in the visual system are identified and corrected.

Time and again, after these adjustments to the visual system, struggling students can now reach their potential.