What is Behavioural Optometry?
Behavioural Optometry is a specialism within optometry, in the same way as orthodontics is a specialism within dentistry. Behavioural optometrists have undergone additional training, which enables them to examine other aspects of vision, rather than just sight and ocular health.
Vision is more than just sight. Sight is what size of object can be resolved at different distances whcih is quite a limited concept but one many vision care professionals concentrate on in the UK. However, vision is being able to efficiently capture, process, interpret and use light information to initiate behaviour.
Our visual system brings us a vast amount of information about our world. When we look at something, we don't just “see” with our eyes; we inspect, discriminate, identify and interpret - all as a part of our visual system.We do not “see” with our eyes or our brain, rather vision is the reception and processing of visual information by the total person.
Vision is our dominant sense, two-thirds of all the sensory information we receive is visual and any deficiency in the visual skills needed for the gathering and/or processing of visual information will have a dramatic effect.
Nearly all humans are born with potential for good sight, but vision - the ability to identify, interpret and understand what is seen - is learned and developed, starting from birth. When learning to walk, a child begins by creeping then crawling then standing until finally walking with assistance, and finally, walking unaided. A similar process from gross to fine motor control takes place in the development of vision. One visual skill builds on another, step-by-step as we grow. Unfortunately, many people miss a step, or do not complete a step, or have to perform visually demanding tasks before an acceptable foundation of basic skills is in place.
Vision is the process of deriving meaning from what is seen, integrating it with the information received from the other senses, and then directing one's action accordingly. It involves visual skills such as fixation and eye movement abilities, accommodation (eye focusing), convergence (eye aiming), binocularity (eye teaming), visual/language perception and visual-motor integration. Vision is a continuous learning process. (AMERICAN OPTOMETRIC ASSOCIATION AND G.N. GETMAN)
Behavioural optometry has developed ways of assessing the visual system, using this more holistic approach where vision is seen as being a dominant part of the overall functioning of the sensory systems. Vision is a learned ability where visual skills are acquired as part of “normal” development. The realisation that vision is a learned ability gives the potential to aid development and correct deficiencies with appropriate therapy a possibility. This led to a number of optometric vision therapies being developed to address visual skill deficits. This approach also enables rehabilitation of visual skills which have been lost or impaired as a result of brain injury. This can be as a result of stroke, trauma, meningitis, encephalitis etc. These brain injuries often mimic visual developmental issues that are seen in people with dyslexia or dyspraxia.
How can Behavioural Optometry Help?
For a number of years it has been recognised that there is a link between learning problems (including dyslexia), coordination problems (including dyspraxia), other behavioural problems (including ADD and autistic spectrum) and vision.
These “developmental” anomalies can appear in later life due to brain injury and can be treated and rehabilitated using similar techniques.
People who have these problems often exhibit a lack of visual development in some of the visual skills that are needed to perform complex tasks. A person may have “perfect vision”, i.e. be able to see 6/6 (the bottom line on most “letter charts”) and be able to see small letters close to and yet still lack the visual skills to efficiently carry out vision tasks.
Behavioural optometrists have an array of tests to assess vision against normal abilities at specific ages. From this a judgement can be made if vision is a contributory factor to the problems that an individual is experiencing. These detailed examinations are called Visual Assessments.
Behavioural optometry uses theraputic lenses and training regimes (vision therapies) devised to develop missing visual skills and resolve related symptoms.