When performed properly and completed in its entirety, vision therapy should provide life-long benefits (within anatomical and physiological limits). In order to understand how vision therapy is able is able to provide such long-lasting affects, it is important to clarify a few misconceptions about vision therapy.
Misconception #1: Vision Therapy is a series of “eye strengthening” exercises.
The muscles that control eye movement and eye position are actually far stronger than they need to be. For this reason, there is never a need to “strengthen” any eye muscle during therapy. Anyone who has worked out (or more specifically stopped working out) knows that weeks of work to strengthen your muscles quickly goes away with inactivity. If vision therapy relied on strengthening, the results could only be maintained through constant work. Thankfully, vision therapy does not strengthen, but instead teaches coordination. Instead of comparing vision therapy to lifting weights, you could think of it as learning to ride a bike (a skill you never forget).
Vision therapy relies of the concept of neuroplasticity to develop new neural connections within the brain as you truly learn to use your eyes and brain in a new way. Many “vision” or “eye” problems are actually not isolated to a problem with the eyes themselves. In strabismus (eye turn), for example, changes occur within the brain while the eye and the muscles controlling its position are anatomically normal (one reason why a treatment such as surgery may not be successful in establishing normal binocular functioning). Vision therapy addresses “vision” and “eye” problems by addressing the underlying deficits rather than fixing the cosmetic outcome. When you address the deficit, the results are permanent.
Misconception #2: Vision Therapy only helps improve the activities that you performed during therapy.
Because vision therapy addresses the cause of the “vision” or “eye” problem, the learning that has occurred is transferred from one activity to another. Vision therapy is not one or two activities that are repeated for countless repetitions (like pencil pushups), but instead relies on variety to produce both a fun and effective treatment environment. This is why research, such as the Convergence Insufficiency Treatment Trials, has shown vision therapy to be the most effective treatment option for certain binocular vision dysfunctions. As our patients know, the results of vision therapy helps in school, sports, driving, and many other aspects of life.
Misconception #3: The brain is unable to change/learn after a certain age.
The field of neuroplasticity has finally provided the science behind vision therapy. Although there has been decades of empirical evidence that vision therapy can help patients of all ages, only recently has there started to be a change in the understanding of neural development. Old thinking suggested that new neural pathways could only be formed during a critical period. This outdated thinking has been replaced with the field of neuroplasticity, which shows that new neural pathways can be produced at any age. This deeper understanding of neural functioning helps explain why vision therapy has helped people of all ages for over 50 years.
Now that vision therapy is understood to be a program designed to enhance control of eye coordination and modify neural connections, it makes sense that the effects last long after the end of the program.
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