Making Vision Therapy Exercises Fun
PART 1: TRACKING
Because I spent three years as a head vision therapist working for a very progressive developmental optometrist, I often get asked how to make home vision therapy exercises enjoyable so children will stick with them on their own. Our therapy staff was committed to making vision exercises innovative and fun, so I'm going to share our secrets here with you.
NOTE: Please consult with your behavioral optometrist before doing home vision therapy exercises to be sure you're focusing on the right skills needed for your child. And please don't use these helpful hints as a substitute for attending regular vision therapy appointments for the full amount of time that your optometrist recommends. In-office visits have a powerful and fast effect on vision skills that you don't want to go without if possible.
OCULAR MOTOR DYSFUNCTION (OMD) OR “TRACKING PROBLEMS”
Ocular Motor Dysfunction is when the eyes can't smoothly follow moving objects. The eyes may jerk, lose track of the object (lose fixation point), get red and irritated when forced to track without head movement, lose their place when reading, and generally feel tired and headachy when reading or playing games that require smooth eye movement in following a target. It's important to understand that an OMD diagnosis doesn't mean that there is a physical problem with the eyes themselves, but a miscommunication between the eyes and the brain. When we teach the eyes to track better, we're actually creating a better pathway of communication, not strengthening the eye muscles, as it may seem. Tracking is a very trainable skill, and is absolutely necessary for successful reading.
OMD is one of the most common vision problems, especially for children who have trouble reading, whether through dyslexia or some other reading disability, and for those who have trouble with sports and other visual games. It's easy to spot and diagnose. All you have to do is have the child hold his head very still while you move a pen or other interesting small object about 1-2 feet from his eyes in slow circles clockwise and counterclockwise, up and down, and side to side. Watch the child's eye movements. Are they nice and smooth? Do they stay on target wherever the object goes? Or do they jerk, lose their place, get red and sore? Do they have to move their head in order to follow the object? If you see any of the latter, there's probably an ocular motor problem. But never fear, OMD is the most fun vision problem to work with at home.
You don't have to do boring, repetitive eye movements in order to practice this skill. Any game or sport that involves moving objects will do. All you need is an eye patch and lots of reminders to keep the head still as much as possible, and your kids can play any ball game, video game, etc. that involves a moving target for them to focus on. Make sure each eye gets equal time with the patch and make sure to do the same games without a patch as well so the eyes can spend some time working together. Something along the lines of 10-15 minutes per eye, and 10-15 minutes of using both eyes together should do.
Some of the better games to patch for are:
Soccer and other ball sports
Pinball, foosball and other arcade games
Ping pong, badminton, tennis, racquet ball and other racquet sports (beware, though, your depth perception will be completely off when patching one eye)
Jezzball, Pong (the old Atari video game), I-Spy, Tetris and other computer games
SET, Rummy, Concentration and other card games that require the eyes to search from one area to another
Search and find games and books such as Where's Waldo, I-Spy,Look-a-Likes
Tracing large pictures, drawing on large paper or a white board, painting with long strokes, cutting along a line
You could also put a ball or other object on a long string, hang it from a high place (so it's about 3-4 feet above the floor, have the child lie on the floor looking up, and (again with the patch on alternating eyes), move the ball or object in wide circles clockwise, counter clockwise, and in horizontal lines while the child is following the object with his/her unpatched eye. Make sure the object they have to look at is interesting to them, or keep switching the object with another one to keep things interesting. My favorite object to use is a softball. I write all the letters of the alphabet on the bottom of the ball (not in order) and using the letters, I play all sorts of spelling games with them as they try to find the letters they need on the bottom of the ball while it's moving above them. Have them find their own name, names of friends, practice their spelling words for school, do alphabet backwards, etc.
Don't underestimate the power of emotion on eye functioning. When emotions are happy and open, the eyes respond much better to what the brain wants, and more gets accomplished in a shorter amount of time. When a child is bored, tired, angry or closed, it's likely their eyes will be just as resistant as their emotional state and they will make little progress no matter how hard they work it. You only have to read about “hysterical blindness” to realize how much our emotional states affect our vision. Keep the home vision exercises fun and you'll be amazed by the speedy progress your child makes!
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