Exciting New Research on Amblyopia (Lazy Eye) Treatment

—Amanda Zeller Manley, OD, FCOVD

R.M., a 28-year-old man, was getting headaches more and more frequently when using a screen. As someone who spent most of his workday on the computer, this was a problem. A previous eye doctor told him he was out of luck, too old to fix his problem. R.M. had amblyopia, and his new eye doctor had referred him to me.

skeffington symposium

Dr. Jeffrey Kraskin

Last weekend was the 61st Annual Kraskin Invitational Skeffington Symposium (KISS), held in Bethesda, MD. One of the most exciting presentations was given by Dr. Paul Harris, a prolific author, developmental optometrist and professor at Southern College of Optometry. He reported that a group of scientists and clinicians are preparing a publication with new clinical guidelines on the treatment of amblyopia.

 

The old paradigm for amblyopia treatment is something most people are familiar with to some degree– patching. I think most adults can think back and remember a child at school wearing a stick-on eye patch, and probably getting teased about it. While patching can temporarily improve visual acuity (how many letters you can read off the eye chart), it does nothing to improve the other visual problems present in amblyopia, such as difficulties with eye strain, visual crowding, contrast sensitivity, and using the eyes as a team (among others).

Newer research has shown that not only is patching not the best method of treating amblyopia, it’s not even necessary except during active therapeutic activities. Instead, treating the entire visual system –as a system— produces superior results that last. The key is that amblyopia is not a “lazy eye”, but rather a problem in how the brain uses the two eyes.

It’s interesting that using whole system, or binocular vision, techniques is described as “NEW“, when Developmental Optometry has been doing this clinically for a hundred years.

Developmental optometrists had been using binocular vision perceptual learning techniques for decades before the concept hit the mainstream in research. In the last 25 years, perceptual learning as it relates to vision therapy has been discussed more and more in the fields of psychology and vision science. Many computer games have been developed that capitalize on perceptual learning to develop true and lasting visual skills. However, I and my developmental optometry colleagues have found that working in 3D space (rather than a flat 2D screen) generates a knowledge of “Where am I?” and “Where is it?” that more easily translates into real-world visual scenarios.

Another important acknowledgement in the current scientific literature is that there is no cutoff age for improvement of visual skills and development of binocular 3D vision. Instead, using a binocular vision approach to therapy in conjunction with appropriate compensation of refractive error (glasses or contact lenses), yields excellent results. This mirrors what we have seen clinically. Adult patients frequently reach normal or near-normal levels of visual performance, and in nearly all cases see significant improvements in quality of life.

Publishing new treatment guidelines, taking into account all of the data supporting established developmental optometry clinical therapies, will bring amblyopia remediation out of the dark ages and provide hope to so many patients who have been told, “It’s too late for you.”

As for R.M., as he completed vision therapy, he no longer experienced headaches and eye strain. He was more productive at work, and very happy that his efforts had paid off. He wasn’t too old, after all!

For the nerds, some additional papers on perceptual learning, adult amblyopia, and vision:

Improving vision in adult amblyopia by perceptual learning

Perceptual Learning Improves Stereoacuity in Amblyopia

Binocular visual training to promote recovery from monocular deprivation

Amblyopia and Binocular Vision

Perceptual learning, aging, and improved visual performance in early stages of visual processing

Applying perceptual learning to achieve practical changes in vision

April is National Autism Awareness Month

April is National Autism Awareness Month, and there has been a lot of information in the news about the rising rates of autism spectrum disorders. The CDC now estimates that as many as 1 in 68 children are now being diagnosed with ASD. This is particularly frightening as it’s not well understood what  is behind this abrupt rise.

While such research is ongoing, it’s important to consider what we as parents and providers can do right now to improve the quality of life of those with ASD. The College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD) has issued a press release discussing the impact of vision in ASD:

“While the search to find the exact cause for ASD is ongoing, the visual link to autistic behaviors provides some answers and help to improve quality of life,” states COVD President, Dr. Ida Chung, O.D., FCOVD.

 

There has recently been a lot of research involving the role of vision in autism spectrum and other disorders, which you can read about here and here. There’s also a piece about eye movements in ASD in the Huffington Post.
autism
In our practice, every day we see children with ASD who exhibit visual processing deficits that interfere with school, play, and social interactions. Fortunately, most of these visual anomalies can be improved through vision therapy.
“Visual processing problems are common in individuals with autism spectrum disorders. They can result in lack of eye contact, staring at objects, or using side vision… Suspect a visual processing problem if you see an autistic child tilt his head and look out of the corner of his eye… a child with poor vision processing may fear the escalator.”– Temple Grandin in The Way I See it: A Personal Look at Autism & Asperger’s
One of the most promising autism therapies available is DIR/Floortime, an approach which influences the style of the vision therapy we offer at the Vision & Conceptual Development Center. In fact, my colleague Dr. Mehrnaz Azimi Green holds an Intermediate Certificate as a DIR/Floortime provider. We first engage the child based on his individual interests, and adapt our therapy techniques based on those interests. We find this tailored approach to be successful with both neurotypical children and those with ASD or other special needs.
We also provide education to other professionals regarding the role of vision in autism spectrum disorders. To keep up-to-date with our speaking schedule, please join our mailing list (we send an e-newsletter about once a month), or visit our Facebook page.
The slides from our most recent lecture, prepared for Parent University, can be accessed here.

Meet the Authors

Please join us for a very special evening. Dr. Harry Wachs and Dr. Serena Wieder will discuss their new book, Visual/Spatial Portals to Thinking, Feeling and Movement: Advancing Competencies and Emotional Development in Children with Learning and Autism Spectrum Disorders

This long-awaited text provides therapists and parents interventions for use at home, school, and therapy offices. Involving affect-based Floortime approaches and other problem-solving experiences, these strategies address unrecognized challenges that often derail life competencies, learning, and development. More about the book and authors here.

Please join us for this informal gathering where you can chat with the authors and have them autograph your copy of the book while you enjoy some wine and cheese. Limited quantities of Visual/Spatial Portals will be available for purchase.

Thursday, February 28, 2013, 7pm

The event will be held at our office:

The Vision & Conceptual

Development Center

6900 Wisconsin Avenue, Ste 600

Chevy Chase, MD 20815

(301) 951-0320

We will be serving wine and cheese, so please RSVP to help us plan.

R.S.V.P. to Canden Webb, Patient Care Coordinator Canden@VisionTherapyDC.com or 301-951-0320 to receive entry instructions.