Unlocks some kids reading skills

By Gil Cohen

Even Janet M. Wilamowski, OD was impressed.

She had just learned that a former patient, who had been faring poorly in private elementary school, was now attending a prestigious private high school and, the youth’s parents informed her, the youth was planning to become an obstetrician/gynecologist.

Wilamowski, who heads up the Vision Development Center in King of Prussia, recounted the boy’s history. He was 10 years old when she first saw him. His parents had brought him in because of his vision problem. He was suffering from condition called strabismus (eye turn), and the parents were hoping to avoid eye surgery.

”While in the program”, recalled Wilamowski, ”the father asked me if vision had anything to do with learning. I said, ‘Vision has everything to do with learning.’ Well, guess what? The boy got an added bonus by going through the vision therapy program. We corrected his vision problem which resulted in a dramatic improvement in his reading comprehension. So much so that, while in the therapy program, his reading skills went up three grade levels.

The objective of vision therapy, Wilamowski explained, is to have the eyes work together with all the body’s senses: ”to help the patient coordinate vision with his other senses and enable the brain to properly interpret what the eyes are seeing.”

ln the therapy sessions, Polaroid glasses, prisms and special lens with filters are used to enhance the brain’s ability to control eye alignment, eye focusing, eye movements and visual processing.”

Vision therapy, Wilamowski readily admits, is not accepted by everyone. ”Some say it’s not needed. Not quite true. When you can’t do the things you need to do or want to do, that is when vision therapy is needed.”

Wilamowski and her team of vision therapists work with patients of all ages, but a large proportion of their patients are children. She would prefer if school districts would use an alternative for testing vision other than the standard 20/20 eye chart.
”The test measures sight only – if a student can see clearly at a distance.
But it doesn’t tell if a child can learn to read, or if the child can sustain visual concentration long enough to read two pages of text.” She explained.

Here’s a typical example, she continued: ”A child is acting out in class: daydreaming, moving around in his seat. Do you place the child in special education for these reasons? Wait a minute. Could these ‘out breaks’ arise from vision problems? The key is to catch the kids before they become mislabeled or misdiagnosed,” she concluded.