Dr. Les Alsterlund is a Fellow of COVD; he has a private practice in Minnesota, in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis. The neighborhood is a charming, hip area lined with lush green trees and eclectic shops and restaurants. Dr. Alsterlund has been practicing here for the past 10 years, and before then he had been in the US Army, and completed his optometry degree at the Illinois College of Optometry. It is very apparent from our conversation that he is extremely passionate about developmental optometry and committed to the health of his patients.
“Maggie’s eyesight had recently been tested and was 20/20. But something was clearly wrong.”
I recently sat down with Dr. Alsterlund to discuss his thoughts on a blog post titled “Uncovering Vision” on Mothers Always Write, in which he was featured. The post was written by a mother, Rachel, detailing the experience of her daughter Maggie who struggled both in and outside of the classroom until she found Dr. Alsterlund and began her road to recovery. It is a beautifully written testimony to how vision therapy can change the lives of children and their families, and I highly recommend that you read it, if you haven’t already.
I started off by asking Dr. Alsterlund what made Maggie and Rachel stand out in his mind. He replied that it was the dedication of both her and her mother to improving her vision. They only had a few weeks here in the United States before they had to return to Africa, which meant that the normally several months of vision therapy had to be condensed into a few weeks. This brought up an important point that both Dr. Alsterlund and I agreed on, which is the importance of motivation and dedication on behalf of the parent and the child.
Dedication makes all the difference
Vision therapy is an amazing, life changing tool for so many children and adults who have visual dysfunction, but unlike other forms of treatment such as pills or surgery, it requires a substantial amount of patient engagement and dedication. We are talking about weekly, or twice a week therapy sessions followed by regular home therapy assignments. The amount of improvement that one can expect to get out of therapy is directly related to how much effort put into therapy.
And in the case of Maggie and her mother Rachel, their motivation and dedication to therapy allowed Maggie to make tremendous gains within a few weeks of vision therapy. Dr. Alsterlund did also mention that they followed up with an optometrist in Africa with whom he corresponded and guided Maggie’s follow-up care.
Setting the record straight
Dr. Alsterlund pointed out that there was one incorrect statement in the article. When describing vision therapy as controversial, mother Rachel writes, “doctors say there is scant scientific evidence that therapy works… these anecdotes lack the rigorous research necessary. ” It is unfortunate that pediatricians and others have little or no understanding of vision therapy, but believe that it is appropriate to advise patients and parents about a perceived lack of scientific evidence. In fact, there is a plethora of excellent research in vision therapy and rehabilitation. These studies are NOT anecdotal, but rather they are funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH), National Eye Institute (NEI), and the Department of Defense (DoD).
If I had to choose just one study to highlight, it would be the Convergence Insufficiency Treatment Trial (CITT). This multicenter, randomized clinical trial funded by the NIH demonstrated that vision therapy is effective at improving the symptoms and clinical findings associated with Convergence Insufficiency and that the effectiveness of this therapy could not be attributed to the placebo effect.
Part of the brain injury recovery revolution
We then moved on to talk about vision rehabilitation in traumatic brain injury (TBI), both Dr. Alsterlund and I see many patients with TBI. We talked about how there is more awareness of the effects on vision after a TBI and, if left untreated, how it can prolong post-concussive symptoms.
It’s the perfect time to see a member of COVD!
We discussed how TBI patients seem to make faster and more-complete recoveries when they are treated earlier on, versus when we see patients that are 6 months or further out from their injury. We were pleased that more of the medical community seems to be recognizing this and referring patients to us sooner rather than later. Need some evidence? Here’s an article that demonstrates the positive outcomes of vision rehabilitation for post-concussion patients.
We discussed how TBI patients seem to make faster and more-complete recoveries when they are treated earlier on, versus when we see patients that are 6 months or further out from their injury. We were pleased that more of the medical community seems to be recognizing this and referring patients to us sooner rather than later. Need some evidence? Here’s an article that demonstrates the positive outcomes of vision rehabilitation for post-concussion patients
Don’t let a vision problem get in your child’s way
The story of Maggie’s vision therapy success, as told by her mother Rachel, is a testament to the power of vision therapy and the huge impact of undiagnosed vision problems on success in school and life.
August is Vision & Learning Month, and this year we’re urging parents to Keep Summer Learning in Sight. Keeping kids off of screens and engaged with vision-enhancing activities supports learning by building vital visual skills and fighting summer learning loss.
COVD members across the globe, just like Dr. Alsterlund, are ready and waiting to evaluate you or your child with a comprehensive vision exam. As developmental optometrists, they evaluate the aspects of vision beyond the “20/20” of a typical vision screening. This means a higher chance of identifying a hidden vision problem getting in the way of school success!
This summer, ensure your child’s vision is at its best, just like her mom Rachel did for Maggie. Don’t wait–it’s the perfect time of year to Locate a Doctor and schedule a comprehensive vision exam before Back-to-School!