Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley Vision Clinic

By: Kristin Roemer, MS, OTR/L

The Importance of Vision

As a first grader, I got my first pair of eyeglasses at age 7. My school had an acuity screening, which showed that I could not see clearly from a certain distance. Getting glasses made seeing the board and all the materials within my classroom so much sharper and brighter. While many of us are familiar with the big “E” chart and understand the need for glasses for an acuity problem, we may not think as much about the other aspects of a person’s functional vision and how that impacts their participation in daily routines.

The Vision Clinic screening at Easterseals involves consultation with a developmental optometrist and an occupational therapist to screen for visual concerns and to discuss how these may be impacting a child’s participation in the classroom or at home. First and foremost, the developmental optometrist assesses the overall health of the eye structures and the need for a prescription. Two more areas, visual efficiency skills and visual processing skills, round out what makes up our vision.

Visual Efficiency Skills

Visual efficiency skills consist of three categories:

  1. Oculomotor skills (or “eye tracking”):
  • Fixation – the ability to maintain one’s gaze on a single image
  • Smooth pursuits – the ability to keep one’s gaze on a moving image
  • Saccades – quick movements between different visual targets
  1. Accommodation (or “eye focusing”):
  • The ability to sustain focus for an extended length of time
  • The ability to change focus from far to near and back again
  1. Binocularity: (also called eye teaming or coordination)
  • Convergence and divergence: the ability of the eyes to move closer or farther and to keep a single image, not see double

Visual Efficiency Examples

If you think about your child sitting at their desk at school, each of these areas are put into play for them to be successful. Your child must use smooth pursuits to follow their teacher around the room and to follow along while reading. They must fixate and complete saccadic movements to look from one part of the board to another, such as when comparing two math equations. When they shift their gaze from up at the board back down to their desk, they are converging and diverging their eyes.

Keeping the information that they are looking at crisp and clear without “spacing out” and letting words get blurry involves their focusing system. When something about any of these systems is off, it can cause great difficulty in completing schoolwork. Even if a child is able to successfully hold each of these things together to complete a quick acuity screen, it may not show the bigger picture of how these skills have an impact on a full day in school or at home.

Visual Processing Skills

Visual processing skills refer to the brain’s ability to interpret visual information in different ways. These skills include:

  • Visual discrimination – the ability to recognize details/differences among similar objects
  • Form constancy – the ability to recognize an object in different contexts or in different sizes/colors/orientation
  • Visual closure – the ability to visualize the whole picture when given a partial picture
  • Visual figure-ground – the ability to perceive and locate an object in a busy visual field
  • Visual-spatial relationships – the ability to perceive the position of objects in relation to each other and to oneself
  • Visual memory – the ability to remember for immediate recall certain characteristics of an object
  • Visual sequential memory – the ability to remember forms/characters in the correct order

Visual Processing Examples

Let’s imagine your child, now at home, is helping out with their chores and getting ready to get out the door. A child with a visual discrimination concern will have trouble matching up socks when they’re helping to sort laundry. When you ask your child to grab their homework off the messy kitchen counter, they may have difficulty locating it if they have poor figure ground skills. A child with form constancy problems may have trouble recognizing letters or words in different fonts or in different contexts, such as reading off a cereal box or from their assignment notebook. Let’s say you’ve asked your child with a visual closure problem to find their shoe, but they are unable to find it because it is partially obscured by a coat strewn halfway over it.

Maybe you show your middle schooler a neighbor’s address and ask them to drop off a letter down the street, but your child has difficulty with visual sequential memory and can’t remember the order of the house number. Your child, who is consistently clumsy, knocking over cups of water when reaching for the ketchup at the dinner table, may be having problems with visual-spatial relationships and be unable to adequately judge the distance between items. A child with visual memory difficulties may have poor reading comprehension, which can make for a frustrating situation when following a recipe or gathering up items from a list.

Vision Clinic Details and What to Expect

Who knew so much went into the way you take in information visually?! The occupational therapists on our team understand that the different sensory systems in our body affect how we navigate the environment and participate in various parts of daily life. If your OT feels that a developmental optometrist should be consulted to screen your child’s visual skills, they will first complete some screening activities themselves to grossly assess your child’s visual efficiency skills. If appropriate, they will also conduct some standardized assessments to get a baseline number for different visual processing skills. This information, along with identifying functional activities that may be difficult, is shared with the developmental optometrist before the clinic so the doctor can get a broader picture of how things have been going.

Our Vision Clinic typically takes place on the last Wednesday of the month. If possible, your child’s treating therapist will be present and able to share from her perspective how vision has impacted participation in therapy sessions based on what she has observed and in conversation with you. If s/he is not able to attend, she will touch base ahead of time with the OT running the clinic, who will then be able to share information and ask questions during the clinic. Information gathered from the screening will be shared informally with the treating therapist as well as a full report scanned into your child’s chart and emailed out for your records. In any case, if further consultation is needed with the optometrist, our therapists are able to contact their office and discuss strategies or action plans in more detail.

Recommendations and Additional Steps

Recommendations from the clinic may vary – the developmental optometrist may identify a few areas that need particular attention over the next few months. You will receive a list of activities to try at home, as well as toys and games that help promote visual development, and your therapist will also incorporate different activities into their therapy session. Sometimes, addressing these areas at home and in OT is all that a child needs to improve their visual skills adequately.

Other times, it may be recommended to go into the optometrist’s office for a more thorough evaluation. Some problems can be fixed with a pair of glasses (either performance lenses during tabletop tasks, glasses to address near or farsightedness, or specialty glasses with prisms), while others may require more intensive work in vision therapy. If this is the case, you will receive a packet of recommended providers in the area along with information about the typical vision therapy focus and progression. It is recommended that all children see an optometrist yearly to monitor vision development, regardless of suspected problems.

How to Get Started

If you feel that much of this information resonates for your child, ask your treating therapist about attending the Vision Clinic at Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley. You can also contact our Clinic Coordinator, Christy Stringini, at 630-261-6216 or cstringini@eastersealsdfvr.org to facilitate this process. We look forward to *seeing* you!

Author: eastersealsdfvr

At Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley, our mission is to ensure that children with disabilities and their families are empowered. We offer pediatric therapy services throughout West Suburban Chicagoland to help children and their families build skills and access resources they need to live, learn, work and play in their communities. We serve more than 1,000 infants, children and adults with developmental delays and disabilities each week. Our core services include physical, occupational, and speech therapies. We also offer assistive technology therapy, medical nutrition services, behavior therapy, developmental evaluations, audiology, social services, a child care center, specialty clinics, and a continuing education program.

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