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HomeminewsOptometry Can Be ‘Missing Link’ for Child Learning

Optometry Can Be ‘Missing Link’ for Child Learning

Behavioural optometrists – with their understanding of how we seae and learn – often provide the “missing link” for children with learning difficulties, and are so valuable, they should be attached to every school, according to a visiting U.S. expert.

Behavioural Optometrist Dr. Curtis Baxstrom was the guest speaker for the three-day National Australasian College of Behavioural Optometrists (NACBO) Vision Conference, held in Sydney in August.

Dr. Baxstrom said behavioural optometry focused on visual development as a whole, rather than just eyesight.

Many behavioural optometrists work in areas related to child development, education, sports performance, brain injuries caused by trauma or disease and other neurological issues.

…behavioural optometry focused on visual development as a whole, rather than just eyesight

Visual Strategies

Dr. Baxstrom said, in education, behavioural optometrists were able to help children with learning difficulties to develop different strategies to visually process information.

“Unfortunately… people believe that vision is just the eyesight alone and yet we know it is much more than that. So when we take a look at these kids (with learning difficulties) many of these kids have been examined for eyesight problems, and they do not have problems – but they do have visual performance problems.

“A lot of kids think they’re not doing well because they’ve been told they’re unable to or they believe that they’re dumb or stupid but it just might be that they do not have the basic visual skills.

“Once these kids start understanding that they can do things by using different strategies and processes, then that enables them to go ahead and start processing and working much more efficiently, and they realise they can control their future,” Dr. Baxstrom said.

Australasian College of Behavioural Optometrists (ACBO) Immediate Past President, Adrian Bell, said 165 optometrists attended the conference, which allows them to earn CPD points.

The aim of the conference, traditionally held immediately before ODMA, was to “offer optometrists education that makes sense in the consulting room,” said Mr. Bell. “A lot of optometrists find that the standard optometric testing and standard education doesn’t… solve all the real world problems.

“Vision can be viewed simplistically as ‘can you read the eye chart’ or it can be viewed as our major sense, and our major way of thinking about things and how we go through life – be that sitting in a classroom, sitting in a car, walking down a path – there’s all sorts of things that happen with our vision that have got nothing to do with whether we can read an eye chart.”

Mr. Bell agreed with Dr. Baxstrom’s view that optometrists had a place in the classroom, advising teachers on issues, such as classroom set-up and lighting, to aid learning.

“We don’t want to teach reading, but we want to make sure that (the child’s) visual system is ready to learn and to take off,” he said.

Infantile Esotropia

Dr. Baxstom’s lectures to the conference also dealt with issues such as vision problems caused by traumatic brain injury and stroke, and the diagnosis and treatment of infantile esotropia.

He said many optometrists did not feel comfortable working with infants, because they could not respond in traditional ways.

However, Dr. Baxstrom said behavioural optometry treatments were able to use techniques such as ‘preferential looking’ to test infants, and to determine underlying conditions and causes of infantile esotropia.

While surgery was the traditional treatment for infantile esotropia, behavioural optometrists were finding that therapy programs could work “much more effectively”, allowing the child to develop binocularity, he said.

Brain Injury

Mr. Baxstrom said many optometrists were working alongside other health professionals, such as speech, physical and occupational therapists, providing rehabilitation for patients with traumatic brain injuries, stroke and other neurological conditions.

“What we’re addressing is several different visual sequela from traumatic brain injury and stoke… and looking at visual field considerations.

“There are a lot of effective treatments that can get these patients out of rehab and back to work or school much quicker, so the cost to society as a whole is much better,” Dr. Baxstrom said.