Tag Archives: vision training

Will Vision Therapy Make Your Child a Better Reader?

Dr. Philip Nicholson’s Visual Learning Center
offers Vision Therapy in Olney, MD near Silver Spring.

Vision therapy is a treatment program designed to correct visual-motor and/or perceptual-cognitive deficiencies. You can think of vision therapy (sometimes called vision training) as something akin to physical therapy for the visual system–your eyes and brain.

If a child is struggling to read because of a learning disability, dyslexia, developmental delay, or attention deficit disorder, vision therapy is not the answer.

However, many parents, teachers, occupational therapists, and even family eye doctors, are unaware that the signs and symptoms of visual-motor and/or perceptual-cognitive deficiencies often mimic other common childhood challenges to reading.

If your child has an undetected vision problem, reading can be difficult, and vision therapy can help.

An eye movement disorder may cause your child to reverse letters, skip lines or words, or strain to maintain focus. A visual processing problem may cause your child to confuse words, be unable to recall words they just learned or read, or be unable to create a mental picture in their mind of the material they are trying to comprehend.

Successful vision therapy requires following an intensive individualized program. Each session will include procedures that are designed to enhance the brain’s ability to effectively control learning-related functional vision problems, such as eye tracking (smooth movement), eye teaming (coordinated movement), eye focusing, or visual processing deficiencies.

The visual functions and abilities that vision therapy treats come as second nature to people without vision problems. For example, if a child already moves and focuses his eyes easily without extra effort, vision therapy exercises aren’t going to help him read better. But if a child is straining to keep his eyes focused and turned correctly, vision therapy can improve the child’s ability to read.

In vision therapy, a patient uses specialized computer and optical devices, including therapeutic lenses, prisms, and filters, to develop greater visual-motor skills and endurance.

As the patient makes progress, during the final stages of therapy, their newly acquired visual skills are reinforced and made automatic through repetition and by integration with motor and cognitive skills.

Vision Therapy Success Story 6

Watch this webinar to learn more about how vision affects learning and discover how a vision problem may be interfering with your child’s ability to read.

The only way to determine if vision therapy would help your child become a better reader is to have him or her undergo a comprehensive vision exam by a developmental optometrist who specializes in functional vision care.

For vision therapy in Olney, MD or Silver Spring, MD, contact Dr. Philip Nicholson’s Visual Learning Center to schedule an appointment.

What Parents Need to Know About How Vision Problems Interfere with Learning (Even if a Child Has 20/20 Eyesight)

Did you know that your child could have 20/20 eyesight yet still have a vision problem that significantly interferes with his or her ability to learn? It’s true, and it’s more common than most parents, teachers, child-development professionals, or even family eye doctors are aware.

Vision is comprised of three main components — reception, processing, and output; and each of these main components of vision are complex.

  • Reception is the ability to see clearly, singularly, and comfortably. It’s the input function, similar to entering data into a computer.
  • Visual Processing is the brain’s ability to determine and compute the information our eyes receive. After the computer gets the data, it manipulates, categorizes, and runs it through various processes.
  • Output is the result of visual processing.

If any aspect of the complex vision system is not functioning in a normal and healthy way, the ability to learn can be impacted significantly.

Click here to read 9 Signs Your Child May Have an Undiagnosed Vision Problem


Your child’s vision exam typically only covers the ability to see letters on a chart clearly and singularly for a few seconds.

However, there is a third component of reception that is also important, but isn’t tested by many doctors— the ability to see comfortably. For example, if you hold a pen within inches of your nose, you may be able to see clearly and singularly. But for how long?

Seeing the pen singularly and clearly for just a few seconds does not mean that your eyes can work properly and without strain for longer periods. For instance, you may be able to lift a chair with one hand for a few seconds, but does that mean you can hold it at that height for thirty minutes? No.

Likewise, many children who can look at the tip of their nose cannot maintain clear, single vision at near for more than a few minutes. And those children who can’t, feel strained, tired, or fatigued when reading. They may rub their eyes, blink, or close or cover one eye to avoid using them both. And often, they will try to avoid the activities that make them feel uncomfortable.

Watch for signs of strain and discomfort in your child as he or she reads, works on a computer, or writes, because these problems can affect learning.

Visual Processing

Typical vision exams do not test for visual processing skills. Normal visual processing requires a complex system of neurological activity to be developed and functioning properly.

For example, visual processing speed and accuracy involves reading words, sentences, and numbers quickly and accurately. Selective concentration within visual processing requires a child to stay on a visual task, even with distractions present. Visual memory is an aspect of visual processing that refers to the ability to accurately remember what is only seen for a short period of time. Visualization is the process of creating a mental picture in the mind that is used to solve a problem.

Many children lack good visual processing skills. Because of a delay in development or disorder, their vision system has trouble computing visual input. They can’t make sense of what they see as easily as their peers who have a properly functioning vision system.

Consequently, visual processing problems may cause their performance of everyday tasks such as reading, memorizing, and studying tends to be slower than normal, and their abilities in these areas can fall below average.


Output is the ability to take the gathered and processed information, and make an appropriate response or action. For example, the output may be the creation of a mental image, an oral or written response, or a gesture.

A child who tends to make more errors than average to complete a task, and/or uses an excessive amount of energy to handle visual information, could be revealing deficient visual processing skills in their output. Often, but not always, the symptoms of a vision problem become apparent in the output.

A child who makes more reversal errors than average may have underlying visual processing problems in the areas of visual memory, discrimination, visualization, laterality, and association skills. Poor visual-motor integration could be the cause of messy handwriting.

Vision Therapy Can Help

At the Visual Learning Center in Olney, Maryland, our vision training program is concerned with all three components of vision (reception, processing and output). But we concentrate on visual processing skills most because they are so vital to effective learning.

No one knows the full reason why some children have a greater difficulty with visual processing skills — it’s part hereditary, part environment, and part education-based.

The important thing to note is that, though vision problems can interfere with learning, visual processing skills are learned skills that can be improved. Comprehensive functional vision exams and testing can pinpoint which visual processing skills are most deficient, so that an individualized vision therapy program can focus on specific areas.

By concentrating on and correcting specific problem areas in your child’s visual processing system, vision therapy can eliminate many of the underlying causes of learning difficulties. The symptoms a child with vision problems experience, such as discomfort, poor memory, poor concentration and comprehension, toiling over simple tasks, and avoiding complicated tasks, can improve significantly in a relatively short amount of time or even disappear altogether.

To learn more about how vision affects learning, download our free guide here, and watch our webinar for parents here.

If suspect that an undetected vision problem is interfering with your child’s ability to learn effectively, schedule an exam with a developmental optometrist who specializes in functional vision care right away.

If your family lives in Olney or Silver Spring, Maryland, contact us at Dr. Philip Nicholson’s Visual Learning Center to schedule an appointment.

Will smartphones and tablets make learning-related vision problems worse?

Life in the 21st century demands more from our children’s visual processing systems than ever before. Children use their vision at school and home differently than we have in the past. In general, today’s students spend less time than past generations on the playground, exploring the outdoors, or engaged in activities that do not involve focusing on a screen.

For both classroom and recreational use, children focus on screens with back-lighted text and digital images. Computers, televisions, smart phones, tablets, video game devices, and even classroom ActivBoards and Promethan boards demand their attention to complete assignments, do research, and entertain.

Technological advancements are a wonderful thing, but excessive reliance on technology can cause eyestrain and stress for even the healthiest visual system. For children that have visual deficiencies, the problem can be even worse.

For a child with a vision problem, environmental stresses caused by the proliferation of technology can induce blurred vision, double vision, eyestrain, headaches, motion sickness, and an even further reduced ability to function in a classroom setting under normal conditions. Reading, writing, and school performance can become even more difficult, because the child has had little time to rest his eyes at home.

Video games and web surfing may hold their attention while also straining their vision; so then when it’s time to complete work, their eyes have become more tired and their visual processing system more fatigued. An existing undiagnosed vision deficiency, such as convergence insufficiency or an eye teaming or eye tracking problem, often becomes more pronounced.

Fortunately, with the benefit of a comprehensive individualized vision therapy program, students will be able to:

  • focus better
  • improve eye tracking and eye teaming
  • enhance hand-eye coordination
  • reduce blurry or double vision
  • strengthen visual processing abilities
  • and more…

Preventing your child from using technology is not the answer. Just as we continued watching television when our parents warned us we would “ruin” our eyes, today’s children will continue to use computers and other digital devices.

While placing limits on technology can help to ease environmental strain, some video games, apps, and television programming are educational. Being able to use technology will likely be important to your child’s long-term success and happiness, so why not get him or her the help needed?

Children with vision problems can best enjoy technology along with their peers if they have undergone vision therapy training to strengthen their visual processing system.

If you suspect your child might have a learning-related vision problem that is exacerbated by the environmental stresses of technology, schedule functional vision exam with an optometrist who specializes in developmental vision care and vision therapy as soon as possible.

If you are in Olney, Maryland, or nearby Silver Spring, Maryland, contact the Visual Learning Center today.

Vision Therapy Exercise: Stickman Activity Packet

When a child has difficulty with reading, concentrating, confusing their left and right sides, or reversing letters, their challenges may indicate an undiagnosed vision problem. He or she could be struggling with eye movement skills or visual processing skills due to an underdeveloped ability to move or coordinate their eye muscles or an inability to process visual information through the brain efficiently.

A functional vision exam by an optometrist who specializes in developmental vision care can either rule out or diagnose a learning-related vision problem. If a child is found to have a vision problem that cannot be corrected with eyeglasses, a comprehensive, individualized vision therapy program often leads to significant improvement in a relatively short amount of time.

Eye movement skills or visual processing skills can be trained and developed through practicing a prescribed set of activities that a child will undergo with the guidance of a trained vision therapist. At the Visual Learning Center in Olney, MD, we suggest students supplement their in-office therapy with practice at home.

The Stickman Activity is one such exercise, designed to improve eye movement skills and visual processing skills. Working through and practicing this activity can improve the following skills:

  • Laterality and directionality — required for writing and recognizing orientation and direction
  • Figure ground — required to distinguish an image relative to its background or context
  • Visual concentration – required to fixate attention long enough to complete tasks and for comprehension

The vision therapy stickman activity is simple but effective. The person doing the activity is instructed to view a sheet that contains simple drawings of a figure wearing one glove or shoe, then say which hand is wearing the glove or which foot has a shoe on it. The goal is to first reach accuracy, then enhance difficulty by increasing speed or including rhythm elements.

Download your activity packet here.

Watch the video below for a demonstration:


summer reading

Summer Vision Screening: When a Bright Child Struggles in School Summer is the Season to Discover Why

As your child wraps up another school year, now may be a good time to reassess his or her progress and struggles. You might be asking yourself some of the following questions and wondering what you can do to help set your child up for success as a student:

  • Did my child advance this year or seem to fall behind?
  • Is my child reading on-level, or still having difficulty keeping up with classmates?
  • Did my child’s behavior disrupt his learning environment this year?
  • Does social awkwardness or clumsiness seem to be interfering with my child’s happiness or self-esteem?

If you are concerned about your child’s performance in school, or perhaps in social interactions and sports, summer is the season to focus on getting to the root of your child’s difficulties and finding the best available help.

If you and your child are dreading making your way through the summer reading list, it may be time to figure out why what could be an enjoyable activity has become such a chore.

When a child struggles in school, summer can be a welcome break from suffering through long days in the classroom and tackling difficult homework assignments in the evenings. Without the daily stress of school, summer can also be the best time to schedule assessments for learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, perceptual deficiencies that could be interfering with learning, and start treatment.

What you may not have considered is that one possible culprit behind your child’s struggles could be a vision problem. Learning-related vision problems are often over-looked because symptoms sometimes mimic or appear similar to learning disabilities, dyslexia, or attention deficit disorder.

Register for an upcoming webinar here.

Children with vision problems that interfere with learning are often found to have “20/20” eyesight when they undergo typical vision screenings at school or with the family eye doctor, so parents and teachers may not suspect a problem with vision. A more thorough functional vision exam is needed to uncover visual processing deficiencies.

When a child’s vision system does not work efficiently, visual skills deficiencies can contribute to learning problems. For the learning process to work as it should, your child must first be able to see, then use what he sees to understand. The ability to see letters on a chart for an eye exam is not enough — 20/20 is just the beginning.

Symptoms of vision problems include, but are not limited to:

  • Squinting while reading near or far
  • Rubbing red, irritated, or watering eyes
  • Rubbing temple or forehead and complaining of headaches
  • Complaints of dizziness or motion sickness
  • Skipping words or losing place while reading
  • Confusing similar words
  • Reversing letters
  • Being easily distracted, inattentive, unable to stay on task
  • Disruptive behavior, especially after expressing frustration with work
  • Poor hand-eye coordination, depth perception, or awkwardness and clumsiness
  • Performing noticeably better on oral vs. written demonstrations of learning

If you or your child’s teacher have noticed any of these symptoms, take your child to an optometrist that specializes in developmental and functional care for an in-depth vision screening this summer. If your child is found to have a problem with eye focusing, eye teaming, eye tracking, or visual processing, you could be one step closer to having answers you need to improving your child’s performance in school and self-esteem.

The good news is, with an individualized vision therapy program, significant progress can be made within a relatively short period of time, even in time for next school year.

If you live in or near Olney, MD, contact Dr. Philip Nicholson, O.D. and his staff at the Visual Learning Center. Call 301-570-4611 for a comprehensive assessment and to see if your child might significantly benefit from vision therapy this summer.

Can Vision Therapy Improve Performance in Math?

Learning-related vision problems are often first suspected due to poor performance in reading and writing, or because of behavioral problems that develop due to frustration with vision struggles at school. However, children with visual learning problems may struggle with math as well.

Though many children with vision problems perform better in math than they do in reading, math performance can also be affected by poor visual processing skills. You might wonder why math is not equally as difficult as reading for these students; this is because math does not always require as much sustained and controlled eye movement as reading.

With the exception of word problems, students are not required to follow along a line of text, recognize and remember as many combinations of symbols, or remain focused on blocks of text for long periods of time. But poor visual processing skills that interfere with reading performance may also cause students to struggle with math.

Just as in reading and writing letters, math requires skills in laterality and directionality. Writing or processing numbers backwards or flipped can cause confusion and frustration for a child. Imagine mistaking 17 with 71, confusing a 9 for a 6, inverting greater than and lesser than signs, or calculating an equation in the incorrect order.

Similar to when a child loses his place while reading, poor tracking skills might cause him to lose his place within a math problem. He will have to keep numbers lined up properly and organized to calculate even basic math, such as aligning columns of numbers for adding, or following the diagonal movement of a division or multiplication problem.

If your child has trouble focusing or pointing his eyes as a team and struggles with double vision, numbers may be duplicated, misaligned, or he may make an error in the ‘place’ relative to a decimal point. A misplaced decimal point or number placement can easily throw off an entire equation for anyone, so someone who has a vision problem is even more prone to such errors.

Poor visualization and spatial skills could make it difficult for a child to understand mathematical concepts, such as value, quantities, magnitude, and volume. Similar to reading comprehension, your child may need to create a mental image and associate meaning to amounts in order to process a math problem. This becomes even more difficult as math becomes more complex in later years.

Symptoms of a vision problem that may be evident while a child is working on math include reversing and flipping numbers, performing poorly on word or story problems, counting on fingers, performing better in oral drills than working on paper, messy and misaligned work, and working very slowly to eventually get the correct answer. Again, you are more likely to detect a vision problem during reading and writing, but do not overlook signs while your child is working on math.

Fortunately, an individualized vision therapy program can help to reduce the struggles your child might be facing with math.

If you suspect your child could have a learning-related visual processing problem, schedule a comprehensive functional vision exam with an optometrist trained in developmental vision care. If you are in the Olney or Silver Spring, MD area, contact Dr. Philip Nicholson’s Visual Learning Center to schedule an exam today.



Vision Therapy Exercise: Discrimination Orientation Arrows Activity

If your child struggles with determining the correct letter orientation — or reversing letters when writing — due to a visual processing skills deficiency, vision therapy exercises can help.

Discrimination Orientation Arrows (DOA) is a vision therapy activity that develops visual discrimination, which is a skill essential in determining correct letter orientation and preventing letter reversals among students with learning-related vision problems.

In this activity, students work with a sheet of paper that contains a series of arrows, which are pointing in various directions. The vision therapist asks students to look at the sheet and indicate which direction each arrow is pointing, by saying “left” or “right” while the eyes are moving across the page.We encourage students to start slowly and allow for mistakes and self-correction to build their confidence.

This activity seeks to mimic the process of selecting a direction for each letter while writing.  “Should d point right or left? Should b point left or right? Which direction should I write q? Which direction should I write p?”

With practice, the outcome children enjoy is that they begin to catch their mistakes faster, reduce the frequency of errors, and dramatically boost their self-esteem. As the student improves, we incorporate a metronome into the activity and they use the beat to enhance deeper comprehension of discrimination orientation skills, until they become second nature. Soon, they will be writing b, d, q, p, etc. correctly, and with confidence.

Watch this video to see a demonstration of the Discrimination Orientation Arrows activity in progress and download a Discrimination Arrows activity packet here.


Should you wish to learn more about this vision therapy activity for letter reversals or schedule an appointment with Visual Learning Center in Olney, Maryland, contact us today at (301) 570-4611.

Philip Nicholson, O.D.

Q&A: How is your program different from other providers of vision therapy?

When a child struggles with vision problems, such as deficiencies in eye focusing, eye teaming, eye tracking, or visual processing, the first step to getting help is diagnosis.

Many Montgomery County families come to the Visual Learning Center in our Olney, Maryland office because their child has been having difficulty with reading, writing, or behavioral problems in school. Often, learning disabilities, dyslexia, and attention deficit disorders have been ruled out, or traditional attempts to help the child improve in school are not working.

After an initial assessment, we encourage parents to schedule an appointment for a comprehensive visual analysis, which takes up to two hours and includes a written report and follow-up consultation, and a unique treatment plan individualized for each child.

What sets our vision therapy treatment plan apart from other approaches is that it is based in the best scientific research available in the field of vision and learning, and our methods are continually modified to incorporate new scientific data to achieve the best results.

Our vision therapy program is a highly targeted treatment program designed to correct visual-motor and perceptual-cognitive deficiencies. Vision therapy sessions include procedures designed to enhance the brain’s ability to properly control the whole vision system. At the Visual Learning Center, our vision therapy exercises target and train visual skills that are most likely to have a meaningful impact on learning performance and a child’s academic abilities.

Each child is treated individually, on a one-on-one basis, to achieve significant results quickly and allow for immediate feedback. Both positive reinforcement and gentle and direct error correction encourages the child to feel greater confidence early in the process and make progressive improvements throughout the vision therapy program. One of the first things you will notice, is that your child’s self-esteem will improve as he sees the difference in his performance.

The vision therapy exercises are designed with a discouraged young student’s needs in mind. Children work through sequenced procedures that aim to challenge–not bore or frustrate them–unlike their school work, which carries negative associations for them. Instead, the activities are designed to help your child practice and develop new skills in a non-academic way that does not remind them of their difficulty with schoolwork. Because of this approach, newly developed visual skills will become habitual in a fun and safe manner, and then your child will be able to apply his new skills to his academics automatically, and with a high level of retention.

Something else that sets our program apart is that we encourage parental involvement. The program requires practice outside of in-office sessions. Practicing at home provides an opportunity for cost-effective repetitious procedures and helps your child to transfer learned skills to everyday activities. But what parents tell us they enjoy most about their participation is that it often mends the parent-student relationship. We understand that homework wars and punishments for getting in trouble at school can strain your interactions with your child, so we are delighted to play a part in making a positive impact on your relationship.

Overall, vision therapy at the Visual Learning Center produces invaluable results when considering committed effort, time, and finances. I chose to become an optometrist who specializes in developmental and functional vision care because I struggled with vision problems as a child, and I can attribute my success as a student to the results of vision therapy. Click here to read some of the vision therapy results and success stories our patients have experienced.

To schedule an appointment for a comprehensive vision assessment and learn more about our vision therapy program in Olney, MD, call 301-570-4611, or complete this form.

Do the improvements achieved in vision therapy last?

When a patient undergoes vision therapy, families often recognize remarkable improvement in a rather short period of time. Within a matter of a few weeks or months, many children are able to make significant progress.

Noticeable improvement early in the vision therapy program instills confidence in patients and provides hope for families that their child will overcome the learning-related vision problems that have caused so much frustration and struggle. Because the child’s vision skills develop through vision therapy exercises, activities, and practice, parents often wonder if the effects will last beyond time spent in the program.

Because your child has not undergone surgery and was not prescribed new corrective lenses or medication, you may suspect that vision therapy is not a permanent solution. Often parents wonder if the effects are a quick fix that will fade away with time. You may question whether your child will require vision therapy throughout his lifetime, become dependent on a lifelong costly treatment, or risk reverting to the problems experienced prior to participating in the vision therapy program.

Not only do we expect the results your child experiences from vision therapy to last, we also expect improvements to continue.

Your child will continue to use the new skills learned on a daily basis. Just like fitness and exercise, as long as she continues to use skills regularly, those skills will continue to function and even develop further.

When your child learns new visual processing skills, these new skills will be used repeatedly, become habitual, and the visual system will begin to work correctly and more efficiently.

In vision therapy, also known as vision training, your child will learn meaningful skills that are used in daily activities, so there is a high level of retention. You should notice continued improvement in your child as he or she progresses throughout the school year.  Many of the skills we work on in-office during vision therapy will continue to strengthen as they are put to the test in a school environment.

At the Visual Learning Center in Olney. MD, we stress the importance of having progress checks at 6 or 12 months after a child has completed a therapy program. This will ensure that the gains we made while in therapy are still holding strong, and we will make recommendations for continued improvement. Schedule an assessment appointment today.

eye with earth reflection

How are “Visual Skills” related to learning?

Discovering that your child is struggling to learn, not because of a learning disability or lack of classroom skills, but instead a problem with their “visual skills” can be confusing for parents.

If a school screening or an eye doctor’s exam indicates that your child has no trouble with her eyesight, it can be even more confusing. You might ask yourself, “If my child can see just fine, how can there be something wrong with her vision?”

You might wonder how a child with 20/20 eyesight can also have a vision problem that is so significant that her learning is delayed or disrupted.

Most people think that vision is the same as sight. So if that’s what you thought too, you’re not alone.

However, sight simply provides the input for a child’s learning, while vision represents a complex system. When a child’s vision system is working efficiently, that child can process, understand, and relate new information to knowledge he or she already has.

On the other hand, when a child’s visual system is not working as it should, visual skills deficiencies can contribute to learning problems. If children experience a lag in their ability to recognize what they see, and relate it to what they already know, and then use this information as a basis for future understanding, the learning process can become frustrating.

For the learning process to work as it should, your child must first be able to see, then use what he sees to understand. The ability to see letters on a chart for an eye exam is not enough — 20/20 vision is not enough.

What developmental optometrists know is that there is a very important relationship between vision and the brain. The two work together so closely that vision and intelligence and understanding are almost synonymous

Sound complicated? It is. But the good news is, many children with low visual skills are often quite bright, or they may have little enduring learning problems with proper vision therapy. Also known as vision training, vision therapy can improve visual skills significantly and quickly.

A child’s ability to perform visual tasks (such as reading and studying) depends on the ability to synchronize thinking and seeing. The processes of thinking and seeing work together to give a perceptual and conceptual understanding of the material. The full spectrum of seeing and thinking needs to run smoothly for a child to gain meaning from what is taught.

Vision therapy exercises improve the integration of seeing and thinking.

Visual skills such as focusing, following moving objects, aiming, turning the eyes together as a team, visual processing and other abilities can be inefficient or poorly integrated, which can put great strain on a child.

Vision training allows a child to practice and strengthen vision skills, lessening the strain and effort they will have to put forth.

Experts have found that when anyone’s attention is spread between a number of tasks, it reduces the efficiency of the tasks. Think of the last time you tried to do two things at once. Was it easy? Did you do both as well as you wanted to? Or did one (or both) tasks suffer

When a child’s attention and efforts are spread between trying to make the visual system work physically and understanding the material, attempting to learn anything new that requires visual skills can be discouraging. A child who does not have deficiencies in visual processing can simply focus on understanding the material, without the interference of trying to get their system to function as it should.

Vision therapy serves to help children strengthen the link between vision and intelligence. Once visual skills are improved through vision therapy, it frees up energy and focus for actual learning. The less stressed mind is freed to focus on the task at hand.

Vision therapy in Olney, MD, and convenient to Silver Spring, MD, is provided by Dr. Philip Nicholson, O.D. and his staff at the Visual Learning Center. Call 301-570-4611 for a comprehensive assessment and to see if your child might significantly benefit from vision training.