Vision Therapists as Educators During School Visits

I began my career as a vision therapist in 1997, having obtained my teaching certification a few years prior. Although the connection between vision and learning seemed obvious to me, it was less obvious to the classroom teachers of my patients.
On one hand this seemed incomprehensible to me, having just completed my degree in education. As teachers, we all had taken child development classes, we all studied Piaget’s stages of cognitive development, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and Bloom’s taxonomy of learning. On the other hand, I did reflect on the fact that eye-teaming and tracking abilities were never mentioned in any of the reading classes I had taken at the University level.
Four years later in 2001, the Federal Law known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was enacted by the Bush Administration. Even seasoned teachers who knew the wisdom behind letting each child mature at their own level, were now under extreme pressure to have every child reading and writing at earlier ages. Those children who struggled to sit still long enough to reach the NCLB mandates, were often diagnosed as suffering from ADD, ADHD, or learning disabled; pharmaceuticals were prescribed and IEP’s were written.
As developmental specialists, it is imperative that we are able to successfully communicate with these teachers who have been caught in a political crossfire for nearly all of their professional careers. The task need not be as daunting as one might expect. As Academic Director for The Vision Therapy Group in Flint Michigan, it is my responsibility to make sure that we, as therapists, reach as many educational professionals as possible, and to do it in such a way that everyone walks away feeling as though they are collaborators in the educational development of our patients/students. Here are the steps I recommend to achieve this goal:

1. Start From the Beginning
During the initial consultation, tell parents that your therapists will be happy to meet with their child’s teacher/teachers in order to explain how their recent diagnosis relates to the struggles they are having in school. Most parents are relieved to have an explanation provided to the school and a plan for correction explained by someone with specific vision therapy training. This works really well if the therapist is a former teacher! But if not, the therapist will still be able to relate to the child’s teachers.
2. Add a release to share information sheet to your intake packet so that your therapist will know they have permission to make a school visit.
3. Once consent has been obtained, therapists should contact the teacher by email to schedule a time to meet which is convenient for the teacher. Usually, teachers have only a 20-30 minute block to meet during the day.
4. Your therapists are making a personal connection with the teachers and administrators in your community. Give your therapists the time and freedom to set up and travel to school meetings. Most teachers will request meetings scheduled in the morning which is fortunate as many therapists have this time available. Encourage your therapists to continue to communicate with the teachers as the vision therapy program evolves.
5. Help your therapists to feel comfortable with these meetings. They should enter the meeting as an advocate for their patients. I usually start with my personal background and how I came to be a teacher and then a vision therapist. Next, I explain how vision can affect learning, including a quick demonstration of physiological diplopia. Finally, I ask the teachers what THEIR concerns are with my patients and explain how therapy will address those issues.
6. Therapists should bring brochures and a symptom checklist that will be filled out at the beginning, middle, and end of therapy. This will help to ensure the connection is made between your efforts and the patient’s improvement.
7. The therapist can also ask if they can spend a little time observing in the classroom. This can be a learning experience for the teacher AND the therapist.
8. In closing, remember that teachers are constantly bombarded with criticism from a variety of sources; kids, parents, administrators, and law makers. The visiting therapist should be happy to serve as a resource for the teacher and school.
Communication is a key to successful treatment of learning related vision problems, and educating educators is a key component of the communication plan. Vision therapists can make this happen. It’s a win-win-win (therapist-teacher-patient)!