Friday, June 19, 2009

Vision Therapy for Treating Learning Disabilities

When my son was in first grade at a public school he had a difficult time conforming to the reading pace they prescribed. Their way of helping him was to give him more of the same work to catch him up, keeping him in for recess and providing even more homework to do during free time. They did not have the knowledge or the resources to help him and it proved to be a very damaging year to his confidence and curiosity as a learner. As he was a late summer birthday and one of the youngest in his class, we decided to repeat first grade, though this time in a school that would honor his pace and nourish more than his academic output. We wanted a school that not only had art, but that integrated the arts throughout the curriculum. We wanted a school that did not set their curriculum and lesson plans by standardized testing. We were finished with worksheets! We chose a Waldorf school and the year could not have been more different. It was wonderful!

Before the year began, my son had a first grade readiness assessment through the Waldorf school that felt to him like a playdate. The assessment covered story telling, drawing, balance, singing, jumping and much more. It was incredibly comprehensive and through it they learned that he had a problem with eye tracking and it was deemed likely that this contributed to his reading troubles (along with his readiness). Because Waldorf teaches reading more gradually, not expecting full, independent reading until third grade, this was written up as something to watch for now. Within a month of that new school year his teacher noticed some vision problems and referred us to Accelerated Visual Performance, where we learned a lot about vision problems.

Dr. Manniko estimates that 20% of students in K-12 are learning disabled and of that group, 80% of these children experience visual problems that cause their learning issues. The diagnoses go beyond the 20/20 visual acuity, uncovering issues like amblyopia (lazy eye), strabismus (crossed eyes), general binocular problems (eyes failing to work together), etc. In addition to an eye examination, the child puts on a pair of special goggles and reads as a Visagraph tracks eye movements. It measures reading speed, next line identification, eye movement efficiency, backward movement and a number of other factors involved in reading.

According to Dr. Manniko, “Individuals who are learning disabled generally make significantly more eye movements and spend greater time focusing on each word, while getting less information than a strong reader. A common pattern among learning disabled individuals is that their eyes do not function together, hindering their reading comprehension.”

My son was diagnosed with Exophoria (his eyes pointed outward and had trouble working together at that angle) and Accomodation Disfunction (he had trouble seeing clearly when looking back and forth from far to near, like from blackboard to paper on his desk). Dr. Manniko and his staff set up a vision therapy program for him to help him overcome these problems. This also resembled a playdate twice a week for a few months. He wore goggles that resembled overlarge Harry Potter glasses with adjustable lenses. The lenses helped his eyes to work together better. While wearing the lenses he threw basketballs, jumped on trampolines, walked the balance beams and played games that involved finding, tracking or aiming among other exercises.

According to Dr. Manniko, visual training programs can help to improve reading speed, comprehension and accuracy. Though he does not claim it is a direct ‘cure’ for learning disabilities, he does say that it is effective in resolving associated visual problems, which he says are sometimes associated with ADD, ADHD, and dyslexia. Dr. Manniko even told me that a large percentage of prisoners have these undiagnosed vision problems and in one program they tested and performed vision therapy on a prison population with these issues and were able to reduce the recidivism rate by 50%! He is not claiming that people with vision problems will wind up in jail, but he pointed out that these are often the children that struggle and give up and don’t get the help that they need to function easily in society, so they turn to other means.

Even though he is not expected to read independently for another year or two, my son is now able to read! Waldorf and Vision Therapy have been largely responsible for restoring my son’s confidence, curiosity, and creativity. He is much happier kid with a stronger self-image. I frequently think about the kids that go undiagnosed and struggle in schools that cannot help them and feel so much empathy for them. I would love to see this kind of vision testing brought into schools. Dr. Manniko told me that the equipment needed for testing is not prohibitively expensive and that a technician can perform all of the work. How wonderful it would be to get all schools access to such a resource to help many of their struggling students!

For more information on Waldorf, go to For more information on Vision Therapy, go to

1 comment:

  1. Tracy, I happened upon your blog and wanted to share a new invention that we are evaluating called the RAD Prism. You can learn more about it at This invention is addressing a totally new theory of why there are visual perception deficiencies that are not related to the functionality of the eye, which lead to reading fluency and comprehension difficulties.