How Is A Behavioural Optometrist Different To A Regular Optician?

The way that you interpret what you see does not depend solely on how clear just your sight is

Behavioural Optometry is a system of eye care that emphasizes on visual training to improve the way a patient uses his or her eyes. Rather than simply prescribing lenses to compensate for eyesight weaknesses, behavioural optometrists attempt to train the patient to see better across a range of different circumstances. 87% of learning occurs through vision and the motor visual system, which means that even subtle issues can have a major impact on a child or adults’ efficiency and performance. This is especially the case with children where these symptoms are still developing. 

A useful analogy is to think of a person as a computer, where most people are born with the necessary hardware to allow normal sensory skills to develop. The software is developed through a busy childhood of playing, exploring and experience. If the software is not established properly (an individual has a learning difficulty) or is corrupted as a result of traumatic brain injury at any age, it can result in problems with the visual system and therefore learning. With specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia, the underlying visual issues may be a significant component for some people but not for others. A diagnosis of a specific learning difficulty on its own is not a good indicator of how much behavioural optometry can help that individual. 

Behavioural optometrists particularly commonly focus on children with learning difficulties. These children can benefit from learning to train their eyes and so overcome reading problems due to inability to concentrate or unable to keep eyes in one place on the page. The assessment and therapy an individual receives enables them to learn more efficient ways to perform visually. Without efficient visual skills the act of reading can be very frustrating.

Some of the common symptoms relieved through vision therapy include eye strain, visually induced headaches, inability to concentrate when doing visual tasks, and errors such as loss of place or reversals. Behavioural Optometrists also try to help patients deal with stress, so that vision training leads to a more relaxed and healthier lifestyle. In addition, behavioural optometry has been used to develop the special visual acuity that is needed for sports; and some practitioners are trained to treat patients who have suffered vision trauma such as a stroke, or to work with autistic or disabled children. How about catching a ball? You don’t need to see it clearly, but you do need to know how fast it is travelling to be able to direct your hands and body to catch it in mid-flight. These skills we often take for granted or admit that we have poor skills without asking the reasons why. Behavioural Optometry teaches us to look at the eyes as much more than a camera lens. But as a means of us communicating and in interacting with the world, as well as directing our actions. 

         Who can benefit from Behavioural Optometry?

  • Dyslexia, Dyspraxia or ADHD patients
  • Those with poor concentration, handwriting, comprehension and difficulties with reading
  • Individuals who have experienced traumatic brain injuries
  • Lazy eyes (amblyopia) 
  • People who struggle with coordination
  • Those who struggle with judgment of distance, and difficulties with ball and team games
  • Individuals who tire quite easily from reading and/or comprehension drops with time

The lenses prescribed by behavioural optometrists are usually somewhat different from traditional glasses. The lenses are designed to relieve the stress caused by such close-focus work as reading or working at a computer. However, for distance seeing, the lenses may not be as accurate as traditional lenses, since the behavioural optometrist seeks to teach the eyes to relearn distance vision skills that have weakened. Many patients are prescribed lenses that include a series of small prisms, which are supposed to help the eyes develop better vision problems. Behavioural Optometrists also practice vision therapy, in which the optometrist works closely with the patient in step-by-step exercises to help the eyes relax and relearn lost skills. Therapy may involve learning new skills such as juggling, drawing, dancing, or ball games, as well as relaxation techniques. 

Behavioural Optometry aims to treat the whole patient, not just correct his or her vision. The initial assessment could be a wide-ranging series of tests and questions, geared to determine the patient's overall visual abilities. This allows the optometrist to not just see how well the eyes read letters on a chart, but how an individual’s visual perception as hand-eye and colour perception. Each patient is unique, and a comprehensive evaluation is required to determine the specific areas needing treatment to encourage learning development and remove visual roadblocks. The results of the evaluation help develop a unique and individual vision therapy treatment programme. Those patients who are motivated, willing to practice and follow the instructions given by the behavioural optometrist achieve significant improvements. 

About the Author Zerminay Shah