Middle school girl struggling with reading homework

To my knowledge, no public school anywhere in the country, or in any English-speaking country for that matter, currently offers vision therapy under the purview of the school. They offer speech therapy for speech problems and occupational or physical therapy for motor problems, but not vision therapy for vision problems. Yet, if the developmental optometrists are correct, and I believe they are, the vision problems addressed by vision therapy affect learning far more than either speech or motor problems. Still, we have no vision therapy in public schools. (If you’re reading this and know of such a school, please email me.)

Speech problems are obvious, as are motor problems, and as a society, we refuse to allow these problems to persist in school children if we can fix them. While it might be reasonable to just tell parents to hire the speech therapist on their own, it’s also reasonable to assume that taxpayers don’t feel unduly burdened by the decision to systematically address these issues so that even the neediest child will receive these essential services.

Author’s Note

When this page was first added to my website back in 2008, what I wrote above was true. However, later our local school board for the Melrose-Mindoro School District, Melrose WI, of which I was a board member, authorized an in-school vision therapy program beginning in the 2009-2010 school year. That program was ended after the 2014-15 school year and so what I wrote is, I believe, again true. See the article School-Based Vision Therapy for details.

Also, in December 2009, I also received an email from Ms. Raquel M. Benabib, a certified vision therapist, informing me that a Montessori elementary school in Mexico City had been serving the vision needs of its students for 17 years. That school is Colegio Senda and the program was supervised by optometrist Carmen Marotto. She did say that it was a private school and that the program was therefore funded by parents. Apparently they were satisfied enough with the results that they'd continued with it for almost two decades. Whether it's still running, I don't know.

Why School-Based Vision Therapy Might Happen Eventually

Suppose learning problems are mostly caused by undiagnosed vision skills problems, as asserted repeatedly on this site. Suppose the developmental optometrists are correct. Furthermore, suppose that school personnel gradually become convinced that vision therapy is exactly the intervention that learning disabled children most often respond to. That is, suppose the adoption of the Response to Intervention (RTI) Model results in convincing schools that vision therapy is a much-needed, valuable intervention because the responses are so obvious, and beneficial.

Should schools use vision therapists for vision skills issues just as they presently use speech/language therapists for speech issues?

How much of a leap is it from those suppositions to the assertion that schools should use vision therapists for vision skills issues just as they presently use speech/language therapists for speech issues and physical/occupational therapists for motor issues? How much of a leap when you consider the cost of consigning a child to a career track composed of resource rooms, special education classes, low-wage employment and possibly even the welfare rolls or incarceration?

School-Based Vision Therapy Would be More Efficient

Moreover, it would be much more efficient than the present system where a parent of each child must learn to oversee home-based exercises. It would be far better to have trained aides in the schools who could work with several children each day, and who would almost certainly become more effective as they gained experience. School-based vision therapy would also be a tremendous benefit to those students whose parents lack the time, or the money, or possibly even the inclination, to see that their children get the vision help that they need.

My Personal Recommendation

If you read the vision-related pages of this website you will learn that I'm a strong advocate for vision therapy. I also sincerely believe it should be provided by school districts, for that is the only way that every student who needs it will get it. It's too expensive for many families to provide on their own, it's too difficult for a parent to determine the need for it, and most students just won't ever get the help they need. In fact, I believe that would be the case even if vision therapy were widely covered by insurance. Many children still wouldn't get the therapy they need.

This is an issue that needs to be tackled from the top down.

I also believe it's essential to tackle this issue from the top down. If the State of Wisconsin provided the same level of state aid to the Melrose-Mindoro Vision Therapy Program that they currently provide to all other school purchases of services and equipment, the program might still be up and running. (The local taxpayers provided all of the support for the program. No state aid was forthcoming.)

Furthermore, the lack of aid prejudices the decision beyond just the cost, for it serves as a judgement as to whether or not the service is worth providing. Were I to undertake the effort to get VT back into the school district, any school district, I would start in the state capitol with both legislators and the Superintendent of Schools.

To see the initial results of the Melrose-Mindoro vision therapy program, see School-Based Vision Therapy. To learn of the challenges a school-based VT program faces, see Operating a School-Based Vision Therapy Program.