VISUAL VITALITY Therapy Helps Treat, Correct Neurological Vision Issues

Article excerpt

During first grade, Grace Klinkenberg was clearly a bright girl. She had a large vocabulary and performed well on verbal assessments. But she struggled with reading, falling further and further behind her peers.

"Grace was going backward," said her mom, Shellie Klinkenberg. "She was having debilitating headaches. She wasn't at grade level and we knew something was wrong."

Of course, they checked her eyesight but it was 20/20, so they didn't think she had a vision problem. But after Grace's veteran teacher tried every trick in her book, she suggested the Klinkenbergs see Dr. Todd Wylie, a South Hill optometrist who practices vision therapy for a range of neurological vision issues.

"It's not always what we see, it's what we perceive," said Wylie, explaining that many of his patients have excellent eyesight, like Grace, but may experience reading, sensory and coordination problems because their visual system isn't working correctly with the brain.

The problem, he said, is neurological and often treatable. His office tests a variety of ways the visual system works with the brain, including pupil response, eye movement, tracking, focusing, eye teaming, hand-eye coordination, and visual perception. All affect how well the brain receives and processes visual stimuli.

For Grace, two treatable issues were visual field deficiency and suppression of binocularity. Simply, she had tunnel vision and her eyes weren't working together properly, which made reading difficult.

"I skipped lines. If I was reading I'd go down to this line and I was missing half the book," Grace said.

She began weekly therapy in April 2013, with additional home therapy five days a week for about 20 minutes. Now near the end of treatment, her improvement has been remarkable, according to her mother.

"In nine months, I can't believe how far she's come," said Klinkenberg, adding that the second-grader now has the reading comprehension skills of a fourth-grader and has better coordination in ballet, which she's studied for five years. Additionally, her headaches have disappeared and she is more confident in school.

Wylie said vision therapy aims to retrain the brain, based on individual patient needs.

During a recent session, Grace put on glasses with one red eye filter and one green. Then she played a matching game of cards that had different bears on white and red backgrounds.

The game, said vision therapist Chris Hill, helps her pay attention to detail with both eyes. Because of the colored glasses and cards, if one eye stops working she can't see the bears.

Other therapy techniques included computer games, reading a 10- by-10 grid of letters from the outside in while wearing an eye patch, and syntonic light therapy, which she did at home, using a color-filtered light.

"It's cool but it's boring too," said Grace, describing how she'd stare into the light for 20 minutes while her mom read her a story. She's since graduated from light therapy after showing measurable improvement with her peripheral vision.

Hill demonstrated the test used to assess the range of Grace's visual field, the girl's forehead supported while she focused on an X at the center of a piece of paper several inches away.

The therapist marked each time a tiny bead came into Grace's view or left it. …