Behavioural Optometry is a professional field of optometry that takes a holistic approach (treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors) to the visual system by applying vision therapy to help improve eye movement control and coordination. Behavioural optometrists teach visual skills to correct focusing and tracking problems, these problems are typically learned through development, but can also be taught later in life.
The visual system is part of the nervous system that processes what we see and allows us to respond appropriately to our surroundings.
The visual system allows us to identify and categorise objects; assessing the distance to an object and its size, and guide body movements
in relation to the object seen.
Visual impairment can involve difficulty with determining their position in space and discriminating between foreground and background forms and sizes. Visual impairments can occur in a wide variety of people but are more prevalent in populations identified with Autism, ADHD, and reading disabilities. Visual impairments can cause concentration problems; additional effort is needed to control the vision impairments, leading to fatigue and trouble with concentration, which can result in delayed development and difficulties in learning.
Behaviour optometry assesses and manages visual impairments by exploring how the eyes work together while reading or using a computer. This can eliminate focusing and tracking problems that can cause children to experience issues with learning in school.
Behavioural Optometry and Autism
Autism Spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurological condition characterised by difficulties with communication, restricted and repetitive behaviours, and sensitivities with sensory processing. Children with ASD experience delayed development in gross and fine motor skills, sensory processing, and communication, which affect visual processing.
Sensitivities with sensory processing manifest in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder especially when there is a breakdown in information between the vision and the vestibular and proprioceptive system, or if poor synchronisation exists between the central and peripheral visual systems.
This faulty information processing can cause children with ASD to develop poor visual awareness and poor eye contact, which negatively affects visual learning, impacting the child’s development. Delayed development can adversely affect their progression through school and their ability to learn. Children living with ASD should receive regular check-ups with a Behavioural Optometrist to guarantee that their vision and the processing of that vision is developing appropriately.
Behavioural optometrists can detect if the individual is experiencing any visual impairments and prepare a customised visual therapy program that will address them in the future.
Behavioural Optometry aims to prevent visual impairments from developing, provide treatment and vision therapy, and develop and enhance visual skills necessary for everyday life.
During a consultation, the Behavioural Optometrist will discuss the child’s skills regarding focusing, eye teaming, visual motor, and visual perception abilities. The Behavioural optometrist will then suggest the appropriate visual therapy for the individual.
Visual therapy is a customised program of visual activities designed to correct visual issues while improving visual skills. Visual therapy ensures vision development in children is progressing appropriately for their age and is not impacting their ability to learn and concentrate. Visual therapy teaches skills that should have been learned through development.
Visual therapy teaches the individual’s visual system to correct itself. Visual therapy is used to treat a broad range of visual impairments including convergence problems, visual accommodation impairments, lazy eye, oculomotor disorders, fixations and saccades, the ability to move the eyes appropriately, and eye teaming ability.
Visual therapy exercises can include the use of specialised instruments such as prisms, filters, lenses, and computer programs. Behavioural Optometrists may also use other devices such as balance boards and metronomes to assist in visual therapy.
An example of visual therapy is the sticks and straw exercise; the Behavioural Optometrist will draw a line around the centre of a straw and hold it around 2 feet in front of the child, the child is required to focus on the black line while attempting to put a toothpick into each end of the straw. The sticks and straw exercise trains the child to focus while using their peripheral vision to complete the task.
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