Dr. Rick Graebe: Eyesight/Vision: Not the Same Thing

Most of us think of eyesight and vision as the same thing. Not Dr. Rick Graebe, a behavioral optometrist in Versailles who practices Vision Therapy, which is a kind of physical therapy for the eyes, body and brain.

Eyesight is the ability to see clearly. Can you read an eye chart? Eye doctors test for this really well and have an easy solution for problems – prescription lenses. Eye doctors also test for eye health, which is crucial.

But often that is all most eye doctors do, failing to fully test for “Vision,” which Dr. Graebe describes as deriving meaning and directing action based on what the eyes see.

For three decades, Dr. Graebe has treated countless patients with good eyesight but who still struggle to read or fail to reach their potential in other areas.

A patient with excellent eyesight can still have a visual system that is misfiring making close-up work overwhelming.

What’s the solution? It starts with the body – we must know where we are in space. Does your child squirm and wiggle when sitting?

“The child might be trying to get tactile  vestibular or proprioceptive feedback as he figures out where he is in space,” Dr. Graebe said. “He also may be figuring out if he sees better or more comfortably if he shifts this way or that.”

That’s why Dr. Graebe’s exam room resembles a PT office. Kids are working on balance while reading so they can integrate their senses.

Next comes the ability of the eyes to work as a team. Using polarized lenses, prisms and virtual reality, Dr. Graebe works on three stages of the eyes learning to point together and work as a team: Monocular (improving each eye); Biocular (Ensuring that both eyes are transmitting data to the brain); Binocular (Ensuring that the eyes work together as a team pointing, moving and tracking.)

To read well, these functions need to be automatic or else the brain spends too much of its power merely deciphering words on the page.

“If I gave you a book where every fourth word was in French, you could read it but it would be exhausting,” Dr. Graebe said. “That can happen to some kids in school.”

Finally, the body, eyes and brain must be integrated so that the brain’s cognitive function can take hold.

When the visual system is fully integrated, a child can see the words on the page, sound them out in his head and then create a picture in his brain. This is when reading is like going to the movies.

“There is so much more to vision than just seeing,” Dr. Graebe said. “Until the visual system is working properly, no child can reach his full potential.”