Creating a Better Outlook on Life
It never hurts our eyesight to look on the bright side of things, and Dr. Amy Thomas has a unique eye chart that reads, “Always look on the bright side of life.” As a vision therapist, she has dedicated her life to helping her patients attain optimal vision.
Thomas has a strong passion for her vision therapy niche. She started Arizona Vision Therapy Center almost 10 years ago to help her patients, most of them children, to overcome any obstacles they experience.
“Some children struggle with understanding the world around them,” says Thomas. “This difficulty in understanding may make a child struggle in school with homework or paying attention in the classroom. Struggling with reading, intense near work and expression of their thoughts are just a few obstacles children must overcome.”
Thomas is a Board Certified Optometrist experienced in vision development and rehabilitation. She suffered from vision problems herself, but was unaware of how these problems were affecting her until she learned about them in optometry school.
It was during her studies at Pacific University College of Optometry that Thomas discovered vision therapy. She noticed that a lot of the patients who went to vision therapy read, studied and interacted with the world just like her. This discovery prompted her to use vision therapy herself to improve her own skills.
What is Behavioral Vision Care?
Vision therapy is a type of physical therapy for the eyes and brain. It is a highly effective, non-surgical treatment for many common visual problems, such as lazy eye, crossed eyes, double vision, convergence insufficiency and some reading and learning problems.
As a developmental optometrist, Thomas has spent hundreds of hours training in this field to study the functional uses of the visual system. She uses powerful lenses, prisms and therapy that incorporates movement and mental activities to enhance visual skills in order to reduce visual stress and to rehabilitate vision problems.
According to Thomas, “there are 18 visual skills, and during a regular eye exam only about three of these skills will be checked.” She asks a lot of questions to get to the root cause of the vision problem. A vision therapy program can improve spatial awareness, eye learning skills and clarity, helping to improve reading, writing and overall visual organization skills.
Thomas also recently introduced sensory learning in December 2017, to help teach children how to learn. “Sensory learning involves three systems—vision, auditory and vestibular,” she explains. “The training simultaneously engages these systems with light, sound and motion. The program challenges the primary sensory systems to work together and better adapt to multi-sensory input, which is the foundation of attention, memory and coordinated performance. This allows the patients to reset their foundations and makes them more centered and balanced.”
Benefits of a Vision Therapy Program
It should be noted that bright children with “perfect eyesight” can still have trouble reading. Vision therapy can correct learning related visual problems that often go undetected for a lifetime.
Thomas uses a series of eye movement activities as well as the use of colored and prism lenses which can further aid in the progression of the child’s success. These lenses train the brain to perceive the world around them in a different but helpful way. The activities that are performed in vision therapy once a week are repeated at home for 15 minutes, five days a week. This is practice for the eyes so that the movements can eventually become second nature.
Once the child experiences these changes from the lenses and activities presented in vision therapy, the brain will adjust accordingly and be able to understand the visual cues in the world around them.
Children who seem to be uncoordinated in visually demanding sports may benefit from vision therapy. Thomas explains that vision therapy can be applied to sports and athletic activities. “If you’ve got someone who plays baseball, and they are hitting the ball too soon, I can Provide lenses that change where they see the ball, so they can swing at the right time and place,” she enthuses. “Those lenses tend to improve their aim and concentration, as well as their coordination and confidence.”
Treating a Lazy Eye
“Lazy eye” affects about 4 million people in the U.S. It occurs when one eye is used less than the other. If one eye is crossed or turns out, the individual sees double, so he or she learns to shut off or ignore that eye. If the two eyes are very different, one nearsighted and other farsighted, the same thing can occur. After a while, vision in the unused eye is reduced.
Treatment for lazy eye depends on the extent of the condition, the patient’s age and the optometrist. Small children often have their dominant eye patched for several hours a day. This stimulates the use of the nondominant eye while they perform exercises such as coloring, cutting things out and tracing.
“Vision therapy is an alternative to patching that is much more easily accepted by the child. It concentrates on building the coordination between the eyes so that the results last for a lifetime,” describes Thomas. “It also improves depth perception while improving the visual acuity in the non-dominant eye.”
Treating ADHD and Attention Disorders
Vision therapy improves many skills that allow a person to pay attention, including those who may have previously been diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Thomas explains that vision is a complex combination of learned skills, including tracking fixation, focus change, binocular fusion and visualization. When all of these are developed, children as well as adults can sustain attention and rely less on movement to stay alert.
“Vision affects every area of your life,” Thomas says. “Even children with 20/20 vision suffer from vision disorders. Eighty percent of your learning comes from your vision. Rereading a passage may be very frustrating for children. Vision therapy can help retrain the brain—without the need of medication—into ways that can aid the child with vision difficulties.”
Looking Better All the Time
While Thomas specializes in working with children, she sees patients of all ages, from 6 months to over 99 years old. She assists people who have had strokes and traumatic brain injuries to get back some of their functions.
Thomas is strong on education and is available to speak to parent groups. She also gives seminars in her office every month. When she’s working with students, she frequently will go to the school to speak to the child’s teachers to educate them about how the child’s vision is affecting their learning.
Most of Thomas’ spare time is spent reading every article she comes across about vision therapy, so that she can increase her already impressive success rate. She notes, “I focus on the brain/body connection to fix people’s vision from any possible angle I can find.”
We depend heavily on our eyes for our quality of life. Thomas is committed to her patients, and works to help them live better lives through better vision. She adds, “I love going to work every day to hear patients’ stories of the new things they are able to do they thought were impossible before. We continually hear success stories from our patients’ families about how much more peace there is at home and school.”
Arizona Vision Therapy Center is located at 6602 E. Carondelet, in Tucson. Connect at 520-886-8800 or AZVisionTherapy.com. See ad, page 15.
Suzie Agrillo is a freelance writer in Tucson and a frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings Magazine. She focuses her writing on the arts, inspirational people
and the human connection.