So You’re Thinking About Vision Therapy?
There is an age old proverb that says “the eyes are the windows to the soul.” And today, we can take it even one step further and say that the eyes are windows to the mind, or perhaps more precisely, the brain. With some disorders, the eye literally allows physicians to peek at the inner workings of parts of the brain and observe structures such as nerves and other brain matter.
It is truly amazing to reflect on the science that has evolved during the past century about how the eyes work, how the brain receives and processes all sorts of sensory information, and how visual information maps onto the many different ways (involving hearing, balance, movement, emotion) that we understand and appreciate our world.
The eye is a complex organ that, when healthy and working properly, allows for sensory information to be transmitted to the brain and “processed” almost instantaneously, resulting in our being able to thinking, understand, make decisions and take actions. For individuals with dyslexia and other types of learning disabilities (LD) as well as those with ADHD who struggle with reading, writing, math and related skills due to weaknesses in planning and organizing printed material, eye health and corrected vision (if needed) is critical to success.
What do we know about vision therapies and their proven benefit for those who struggle with learning?
Colored Overlays or Colored Lenses One treatment approach involves the use of colored lenses worn in glasses or thin plastic overlays that are placed over or in front of printed text. This approach is alleged to treat a condition called “scototopic sensitivity syndrome” or Irlen Syndrome, named after the person who first described the condition and this treatment approach. It has become increasingly popular because it is inexpensive (although being evaluated and fitted for lenses or a good color match can cost hundreds of dollars), the materials are easy to come by, and the approach is generally agreed to pose “no risk” to users.
Believers in this treatment have reported experiencing relief from eye strain and improved ability to see printed letters against a background when reading and scanning. Some have also said that when using these lenses and overlays, words no longer appear to move, dance, float, or shift on a page, and letters appear less blurry, scrunched together, pulled apart or double. Some people have also reported relief from headaches or nausea when reading.
The Irlen website cites that “this technology can improve reading fluency, comfort, comprehension, attention, and concentration while reducing light sensitivity” and “is not a method of reading instruction.” To its credit, the site does not state that these lenses, overlays or filters provide a cure for LD or ADHD, stating that it “can be one piece of the solution puzzle” that “does not replace the need for instruction, remediation, or medical intervention.”
The bottom line on colored overlays or tinted lenses: