Vision Therapy or Occupational Therapy?

Dr. Russel Lazarus, March 3, 2021

25% of all children have a vision problem significant enough to affect their performance in school.

Parents will do almost anything to get their child the help they need to keep their grades up at school. However, parents don’t always know who they need help from and what kind of help is needed.

Often school administrators recommend that children who are struggling in school seek help from an occupational therapist (OT) to help cope with learning or behavioral problems, not realizing that the problems achieving at school may come from an undiagnosed problem with their visual skills.

Visual skills are essential for school performance, these can be improved with a vision therapy (VT) program.

If your child has learning or behavioral problems visit an eye doctor for an eye exam.

The differences between VT and OT

While VT and OT have a notable amount of overlap, there are a few key differences.

Vision Therapy:

Vision therapy helps adults and children with poor visual skills to strengthen the brain-eye connection and improve the functioning of their visual system.

There are 17 key visual skills that are vital for school success.

Doing so can alleviate many symptoms like eye strain, headaches, dizziness, and even anxiety.

Examples of visual skills are:

  • Eye teaming
  • Depth perception
  • Focusing
  • Tracking
  • Convergence
  • Visual-motor skills
  • Visual processing

Children with 20/20 sight can still have poorly developed visual skills, this is known as the ‘Myth of 20/20 Vision‘.

If a child has a visual deficit, even with 20/20 eyesight, they may need to read a sentence several times in order to understand its meaning. They may also tilt their head to read the board, or may try to avoid doing any visually demanding activities.

SEE RELATED: Guide to Vision Therapy

Contact an eye doctor near you that can conduct eye exams to detect any underlying visual problems.

Find a Vision Therapy Eye Doctor Near You

Occupational Therapy:

Occupational therapists help people of all ages to regain/gain the ability to perform various tasks through the use of interventions and sensory-motor exercises. OT aims to improve:

  • Balance
  • Bilateral awareness
  • Gross and fine motor coordination
  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Tactile awareness

Which therapy is right for your child? 

If your child is struggling in school or while playing sports they should first be evaluated by an eye doctor experienced in vision therapy.

If children have any trouble performing visually-demanding tasks like sports, spelling, reading, or are complaining of headaches — a vision therapy evaluation will assess the development of their visual skills.

Specific eye doctors have spent years of post-graduate training in vision therapy and can provide successful programs to improve your child’s visual skills and in turn enhance their reading, learning, attention and overall school performances.

While OT’s can perform more basic visual exercises with children, only an optometrist experienced in VT can prescribe therapeutic lenses, filters and prisms to significantly impact the functioning of their visual skills.

School vision screening

Something to keep in mind is that even if a child passes the school’s vision screening test, they may still have a problem with visual processing and other visual skills. 

School vision screenings are not reliable as they only test eyesight and not the other essential visual skills that help with the success of a child.

An interdisciplinary approach is often the most effective since the visual system is highly integrated with other systems. While some children may benefit from doing both OT and VT simultaneously, it is usually recommended that the visual skills are addressed first.

LEARN MORE: Guide to Vision Therapy

If your child is not achieving to their potential at school, contact an eye doctor near you to schedule an appointment, so that their vision can be evaluated.

If your child is struggling with behavioral or learning problems, they may have an undiagnosed vision problem and your eye doctor will be able to discuss the many successful options.