Improving vision naturally!

I have studied many programs and books on natural vision improvement over the past two years. These books and courses in vision improvement have many common characteristics. Most admit that what they teach contradicts what your eye doctor will tell you about vision. They also include eye exercises of various types. In my experience, the only doctors who will give you eye exercises are developmental optometrists. They specialize in functional vision improvement. That means they can help you teach your eyes to work better together, but do not advocate improvement in visual acuity (distance vision). In contrast, the natural vision improvement programs teach that you can completely rid yourself of glasses or contact lenses.

Each program begins with a discussion of the eye’s structure and the function of each part of the eye. Most also provide a list of terms with definitions. One common misconception that is often addressed is that we are born with certain eye challenges. However, vision is actually a learned process. Some of us don’t develop all the visual skills we need and so we find other ways of coping or accommodating for the visual deficit. Visual development depends on the experiences and environment of each individual. Good early visual skills can be damaged later by stress, poor nutrition and aging. Some people don’t develop good visual skills early on, others are compromised by excessive exposure to fluorescent lighting or hours of computer eyestrain. And most significant for me: some people see in 3D while others view the world as basically flat.

Since vision is a learned skill, it can also be improved through practice and teaching, which is the foundation of all vision therapy. One of my favorite books on improving your vision is: Improve your vision without glasses or contact lenses: a new program of therapeutic eye exercises. It’s by the American Vision Institute: Dr. Beresford, Dr. Muris, Dr. Allen and Dr. Young. I like it because it gave me a technique none of the other programs suggested, one that I knew I could incorporate into my life rather easily. It’s called “a year of traffic lights.” The suggestion is to do eye exercises at each stop light. The authors presuppose that the average person will stop at approximately ten lights per day for about 2 minutes at each light, providing about 20 minutes for practicing eye exercises. That’s what my vision therapist recommends anyway. It means that I can do a little extra, depending on how much travel I do that day.

They simplify the exercises down to “Seven new visual habits.”

Habit #1: Pumping. Other programs call this near/far focusing. The specific details of this exercise vary, but the basic idea is the same. It’s even one I have done at my doctor’s office in a manner specific to my eye issues. Focus on the smallest detail of an object about 6 inches away and then rhythmically change focus to something more than 15 feet away. Choose a different object each time you focus in the distance, while the near object stays stationary.

Habit #2: Tromboning. My doctor actually called one of the exercises in his office by this name. There are various names given for this technique, but the basis is the same.; Hold an object (finger, thumb, pen, etc.) at arm’s length in front of you and slowly bring it toward you until it touches the tip of your nose. Then move it slowly back out to arms length, like a musician playing a trombone. You should keep it in focus, not seeing double, while breathing slowly in and out with the movement.

Habit #3: Clock rotations. Start by looking at a far object directly ahead. While keeping head and shoulders still, look to the far left, as if looking at the 9:00 on your giant clock. Stretch for a couple of seconds, not looking at anything in particular, then return to far object at the center. Repeat for 10:00, 11:00, etc. all the way around the clock. Do it slowly. This stretches the extraocular muscles.

Habit #4: Eye Rolls. Slowly roll eyes in a complete circle one way then the other. Aim for coordination and control as you stretch the extraocular muscles. This should never be done violently or with any jerking. You don’t want to see flashes of light because that signals stress to the retina. The goal is to develop smooth, controlled eye movements. If it makes you dizzy to do clock rotations and eye rolls, you can cover your eyes with your hands to do them with your eyes open underneath. (You probably don’t want to cover your eyes at the traffic light, howeverJ.)

Habit #5: Slow Blinking. Inhale and blink normally. Close eyes as you exhale, relax and slowly blow the air out. The object is to just relax, slow blinking in time to your slow breathing.

Habit #6: Squeeze Blinking. Squeeze eyelids tightly shut and hold to a count of three. Open wide and blink a few times then keep repeating. This produces more tear fluid to refresh the eyes. Isolate the eyelid muscles as you repeat this exercise.

Habit #7: Blur Zoning. This also has various names (magic pencil, etc.). Slowly run your gaze around the edge of a blurred object, following the outlines. Myopes (nearsighted individualsl) will look at a far object while hyperopes (far-sighted people) or presbyopes (those who need reading glasses) will look at a near object. (Choose what is blurry for you.) Study the smallest detail you can see and work to determine the exact shape, working on smaller and smaller details. Avoid squinting as you calmly pick out more details.

ROTATE techniques at each stoplight. They can also be done during TV commercials, or when reading or talking on the phone. You can also do them while walking or weight lifting (during whatever exercise you do.)

These seven techniques are found in various forms in most of the programs I have studied. Improve your vision also includes sixteen booster techniques which range from positive (power) thinking to chart scanning to acupressure, light therapy and palming. My favorite is the last one: aversion therapy. It is suggested that after you have adapted to a weaker prescription you smash the previous pair. You get out all the negative feelings and commit to better vision. I probably couldn’t really smash a perfectly good pair of glasses, so I would choose to donate them to someone less fortunate instead. ( If you keep the frames, they recommend that you wrap the lenses in adhesive tape and put them in a plastic bag before smashing them so pieces of glass don’t fly everywhere.)

Several times in the course of this book, readers are encouraged to use the techniques under the care of a behavioral optometrist. The authors share the address for COVD (College of Optometrists in Vision Development) and OEP (Optometric Extension Program Foundation). There are no phone numbers or website information, probably because the book was published in 1996. Searchers can now find answers regarding vision therapy on the COVD (doctor search tool here: and OEP Foundation websites. OEPF link here:  This is one of the few books or programs which suggests working with a behavioral optometrist. I have found it a helpful starting place in my quest for better vision.

Misdiagnosing ADHD and Autism

I have heard public service messages lately regarding autism. The aim is to raise awareness about autism because about one in every 88 children are diagnosed with autism (or autism spectrum disorder), according to recent statistics  released by the CDC. That is also the figure quoted by the Autism Society. Alternately, experts estimate that five percent of school-age children (or 5 in 100) have convergence insufficiency. (The estimates also indicate that 25% of school age children have a vision issue that adversely affects their learning.)  That means that convergence insufficiency is much more prevalent than autism and I have not heard any awareness ads yet! I also haven’t seen any changes in the way we diagnose (or fail to diagnose) vision issues.

Not only are we failing to help children overcome their vision issues, we are also misdiagnosing! An article by Laura Novak in the New York Times dated September 11, 2007 entitled Not Autistic or Hyperactive. Just Seeing Double at Times details the experience of 9-year-old Raea Gragg, who had been diagnosed with ADHD and depression. A behavioral pediatrician treated the symptoms with three drugs. Then a school reading expert suggested she see a behavioral optometrist and she was quickly diagnosed with convergence insufficiency. Here’s part of the NYT article:

“Specialists conducted a battery of tests. The possible diagnoses mounted: autism spectrum disorder, neurofibromatosis, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety disorder. A behavioral pediatrician prescribed three drugs for attention deficit and depression. The only constant was that Raea, now 9, did anything she could to avoid reading and writing.

Though she had already had two eye exams, finding her vision was 20/20, this year a school reading specialist suggested another. And this time the optometrist did what no one else had: he put his finger on Raea’s nose and moved it in and out. Her eyes jumped all over the place. Within minutes he had the diagnosis: convergence insufficiency, in which the patient sees double because the eyes cannot work together at close range.

Experts estimate that 5 percent of school-age children have convergence insufficiency. They can suffer headaches, dizziness and nausea, which can lead to irritability, low self-esteem and inability to concentrate. Doctors and teachers often attribute the behavior to attention disorders or seek other medical explanations. Mrs. Gragg said her pediatrician had never heard of convergence insufficiency.

Dr. David Granet, a professor of ophthalmology and pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego, said: “Everyone is familiar with A.D.H.D. and A.D.D., but not with eye problems, especially not with convergence insufficiency. But we don’t want to send kids for remedial reading and education efforts if they have an eye problem. This should be part of the protocol for eye doctors.”

In 2005, Dr. Granet studied 266 patients with convergence insufficiency. Nearly 10 percent also had diagnoses of attention deficit or hyperactivity — three times that of the general population. The reverse also proved true: examining the hospital records of 1,700 children with A.D.H.D., Dr. Granet and colleagues found that 16 percent also had convergence insufficiency, three times the normal rate. “When five of the symptoms of A.D.H.D. overlap with C.I.,” he said, “how can you not step back and say, Wait a minute?”

Dr. Eric Borsting, an optometrist and professor at the Southern California College of Optometry who has also studied the links between vision and attention problems, agreed. “We know that kids with C.I. are more likely to have problems like loss of concentration when reading and trouble remembering what they read,” he said. “Doctors should look at it when there’s a history of poor school performance.”

Dr. Stuart Dankner, a pediatric ophthalmologist in Baltimore and an assistant clinical professor at Johns Hopkins, said that children should be tested for convergence difficulty, but cautioned that it was not the cause of most attention and reading problems. Dr. Dankner recommended an overall assessment by a psychologist or education specialist. “An eye exam should be done as an adjunct,” he said, “because even if the child has convergence difficulty, they will usually also have other problems that need to be addressed.”

Doctors recommend a dilated eye exam and a check of eye teaming and focusing skills. Testing includes using a pen or finger to test for the “near point of convergence,” as well as a phoropter, which uses lenses and prisms to test the eyes’ ability to work together.

There is no consensus on how to treat convergence insufficiency. Next spring, the National Eye Institute will announce the results of a $6 million randomized clinical trial measuring the benefits of vision therapy in a doctor’s office versus home-based therapy.

For Raea Gragg, the treatment was relatively simple. For nine months she wore special glasses that use prisms to help the eyes converge inward. She then had three months of vision therapy. She has just entered fourth grade and is reading at grade level. “Raea didn’t know how to describe it because that’s all she’s ever known,” her mother said. “She felt like she had been telling us all along that she couldn’t see, but nobody listened.”

Studies since this article have shown a significant improvement when patients with convergence insufficiency are treated with vision therapy. Since the symptoms overlap so much, we should be screening all children for these vision disorders, particularly the ones who are having trouble in school. And, what constitutes having trouble in school? My son could do the work, but just didn’t want to. I can’t fathom how difficult it may have been for him to complete schoolwork while suffering from convergence insufficiency. What I’m also learning is that teaching the eyes to converge doesn’t automatically provide confidence, drive or good study habits. We’re still working on that part.