Children’s Behavioural Optometrist in Newcastle
There’s more to vision than simply reading the bottom line of an eye chart.
Our eyes work like a puppet: each eye has 6 muscles that roll our eyes around, like the strings of a puppet. These 6 muscles are controlled by 3 facial nerves. It takes skill and eye coordination to ensure our eyes work together, track smoothly from one object to the next, turn inward at the same time and to the same degree when we look at something up close, and all of this is just the muscles outside our eyes! Inside the eyes are the muscles that control our focussing, called accommodation which we describe like the autofocus of a phone camera, which controls our ability to zoom our vision in. Whilst concentrating on close objects, not only do these internal eye muscles have to zoom in, they have to maintain that focus to keep our vision clear whilst we are reading. Once we look into the distance, like copying from a whiteboard, these internal eye muscles must instantly relax to allow us to change our focus. As you can start to imagine, it’s takes a skilled visual system to be able to do all these tasks in a well coordinated efficient way, whilst we concentrate and learn. What powers our eyes is our brains, so if our eyes aren’t performing well it affects our ocular stamina and can fatigue our brain, giving us eye or headaches or reduce our ability to concentrate.
Behavioural optometry is practiced by optometrists who understand the link between vision & performance, or between vision & behaviour. While behavioural optometry is usually thought of as paediatric (children’s) eye testing for reading difficulties, adults too can benefit from a customised optometry consultation with our behavioral optometrists at Custom Eyecare Newcastle.
Behavioural optometrists check for not only clarity of vision but also:
- the ease of focussing
- the speed of changing focus between close and far
- the concentration required to maintain focus
- the comfort or fatigue levels involved in vision
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Behavioural Optometry & Learning Difficulties
Behavioural optometrists often see school children who are struggling with schoolwork & learning, especially reading & literacy difficulties, due to undetected vision or focussing problems (sometimes known as ‘tracking’ problems). These children often have problems with reading fluency, comprehension, and concentration. Also, kids with ADD, ADHD, autism, developmental delay, low muscle tone, and many others, are more likely to have focussing or eye movement problems.
It is a myth that glasses will weaken a child’s eyes. The truth is, the eyes themselves already have a weakness which is why the child is having troubles. The glasses overcome the troubles, so children can get on with reading and learning. Anything that provides a benefit will obviously be missed once that benefit is taken away again, and children’s glasses are no different.
It’s important to note that reading glasses for children don’t work by making words look “bigger” or “clearer” – that’s because blurry vision was never the problem in the first place. Instead, they make reading easier and less tiring for those children who are having trouble maintaining focus and concentrating over time.
Over the years many local Newcastle and Hunter Valley school children have found that their reading and school progress has improved rapidly with the behavioural optometry eyecare we provide.
How can I tell if my child is having trouble with their vision?
Below is a checklist we put together for teachers and parents, so they know what signs and symptoms to look for in children who have visual troubles:
- Does the child skip words whilst reading, especially the small words?
- Do they have a slow reading speed? or poor reading fluency or comprehension?
- How well do they track along the line whilst reading, commonly called “tracking eye muscles”?
- Do they lose their place when reading? Do they skip lines or reread the same line? Do they read with a finger, or bookmark or ruler to help keep their place on a page?
- How is their stamina with concentrated close work? Are they able to read as well on page 2 or 3, as they were on page 1?
- Do they reverse letters or small words?
- Do they blink frequently whilst reading? Or squint, frown or look uncomfortable when they concentrate?
- Are there complaints of words moving on the page? or words zooming in and out of focus? Some children describe it as glitchy, glurry, jumpy or zoomy vision.
- How well do they copy down from the board? It takes skills and muscle coordination to easily and quickly change our focus from near to far and vice versa.
- Do they complain of tired, sore eyes or headaches? Especially in the afternoon, after a school day or lots of screen time?
- Are they particularly light or glare sensitive?
- Do they cover or close one eye? Tilt or turn their head? Or get really close to their schoolwork?
- Is your child doing well in most areas, but behind in reading?
Any of the above symptoms can be a sign your child is having trouble with their vision.
Behavioural Optometrists & Myopia Control
Behavioural optometrists also have an interest in the prevention of myopia (short-sightedness). This is an area of very active research. Rather than just prescribing stronger and stronger glasses for distance vision, behavioural optometrists try to treat the cause of the problem – prevention is better than the cure. We often fit short-sighted children with orthokeratology contact lenses, which have been shown to reduce the rate of myopic progression.
Vision Therapy & Tinted Lenses
We do not conduct vision therapy or vision training programs. Occasionally we do recommend simple eye exercises to be done at home. We do not generally prescribe tinted (“rose coloured”) glasses for reading, although we do understand that some people happily use these already and that’s fine.
Eye Tests for Young Children
Pre-schoolers, toddlers and even babies can also have their eyes & vision tested using specialised techniques and equipment. There’s no need to read a letter chart.
Further Information about Behavioural Optometry
For more information, click on Australian College of Behavioural Optometrists (ACBO). Also, there are some interesting articles here on conditions that may be detected during a kid’s eye test, such as myopia, convergence insufficiency, accommodative dysfunction, turned eyes & lazy eyes, vision and learning, etc. Another article here describes a 2014 study confirming the link between reading speed and glasses in long-sighted children. Lastly, for those interested we have now started our own list of scientific journal articles relating to vision, reading, literacy, and education.
We do not claim to “treat dyslexia” or “cure dyslexia”, although what’s true is that many of the children we see with focussing problems have been suspected of having dyslexia, or have dyslexia-like symptoms.
Contact us to arrange an assessment with our behavioral optometrists Newcastle. “Kid-friendly” appointment times such as after school and Saturday mornings are popular so please plan ahead.