Dr. Hollis L. Stavn, Santa Rosa Optometrist – VSP Provider  707-527-9137

2305 Mendocino Avenue, Suite B  -  Santa Rosa, CA 95403  -  707-527-9137

What is Vision Therapy?

All children with reading disabilities should have an exam by a Doctor of Optometry. 

The office of Dr. Hollis Stavn in Santa Rosa, Ca offers assessment and a computerized therapy program for children and adults with reading difficulties.

The assessment of reading difficulties begins with a visual and perceptual skills evaluation.

Vision Therapy is a program of activities and exercises taught in every Optometry School and used by specially trained Optometrists that has been shown to be effective in improving reading difficulties and certain other vision conditions. 

While often used in a multidisciplinary approach in conjunction with educational therapies, Vision Therapy is often more effective than special education, tutoring, and speech and language therapy, and often succeeds where other treatments have had limited success. 

The office of Dr. Hollis Stavn in Santa Rosa, Ca. offers assessment and a therapy program for children and adults with reading difficulties. The assessment of reading difficulties begins with a visual and perceptual skills evaluation.

Vision Therapy Background

Optometrists have taken the lead in investigating the important links between reading and vision.Over the last century people have come to Doctors of Optometry for difficulty with reading or comprehension. Many have been labelled and more often mislabelled as dyslexic. Today they are often mislabelled with ADD or attention deficit disorder. The word optometry virtually means "to measure the eyes." Optometrists began to measure what we now call "visual skills" to see if they could define differences in these "visual skills" between good readers and poor readers. By improving these skills can you also improve reading ability? It turns out that this is the case. It is possible to determine why a child has trouble reading and to eliminate reading difficulties in most cases. Many different skill areas have been defined, and hundreds of activities are available to work on improving them. Most of these activities differ from the academic level instruction taught in the schools, rather they are perceptual level or pre-reading level skills which are not taught in the schools. This explains why tutoring alone is often ineffective- it is usually academically based and not perceptually based! Modern vision therapy is the culmination of decades worth of work by a few dedicated individuals and only one profession- Optometry. Vision Therapy is taught only at Schools of Optometry in the United States.

Vision and Reading - Developmental Skills

The visual system is dependent on developmental experiences. We are not born with good vision, but rather with the ability to develop good vision. If this development is interfered with then amblyopia may result- or poor vision due to a lack of proper developmental stimulation. The lack of a clear image in the eye early in life can lead to a lack of nerve connections with the eye in the brain. There is a critical period for this proper development to take place- usually the first several years of life. This is an example of development requiring proper stimulation at certain critical ages. This can serve as a model system for the development of other visual attributes as well. Visual and perceptual development is hierarchically based. The perceptual mechanisms of vision develop in a sequential way. A child who is 4 may be able to draw a circle but not the more complex square. A child of 5 may be able to draw the square but not the more complex diamond. A child in second grade may be able to read and track large print short second grade words but not the longer smaller words a third grader can read. How does a child acquire these visual skills from one level to the next? Does it happen automatically or is it dependent on interaction with his environment?

Some of the important visual and reading skills are:

  1. Binocular Vision- The ability of the eyes to work together well. Common problems that can affect reading are over and under convergence of the eyes.This is also referred to as eye muscle balance.
  2. Refractive - undiagnosed farsightedness can contribute to reading difficulty.
  3. Accommodative ability to easily and quickly change focus without fatigue. This is a common contributor to reading difficulty.
  4. Visual Tracking- the ability to read without skipping lines and losing ones place.
  5. Visual Perception.
  6. Auditory Perception.
  7. Visual Memory.

In the model system these skills are related to each other. For example good binocular vision and tracking skills are needed for the development of visual memory which is needed for reading.

The Vision Therapy Eye Exam

If you want to have a developmental eye exam to test for reading or learning difficulties, you need to make an appointment with a Doctor of Optometry who has received training in vision therapy. Only about one in twenty optometrists do such testing. This testing cannot be done by ophthalmologists. Despite their medical training ophthalmologists receive no education in reading difficulties. In addition to a standard eye exam additional tests should include:

  1. A developmental,academic, and behavioral history.
  2. A dilated eye exam.
  3. Binocular Vision tests.
  4. Focussing facility tests.
  5. A tracking test.
  6. Visual Perception tests.
  7. Reading tests.
Unless these tests are done your doctor will not be able to help you find the cause of or help you correct a reading difficulty. Many times people expect a standard eye exam to tell them these things but in fact a standard eye exam will determine if you need glasses and if your eyes are healthy but additional testing is required when evaluating reading problems. Every child with a reading difficulty should be examined by an optometrist.

Parents' Comments on Vision TherapyPicture

Following are the results of questionnaires that parents have filled out after their children completed a three month program of Vision Therapy.

1. How valuable was Vision Therapy?(Ranked from 1 to 5 where 1 is not helpful and 5 is extremely helpful!))

Average response 4.8 (83% selected 5, and no one selected less than 4.)

"We have gone one year since therapy with our son and he has gone from D's and F's last year to A's and B's one year later. Everyday there is improvement. What can I say? Thanks a million!!!"

"Andy got a B+ in reading. This was the first year he was not in special education."

"We noticed definite improvement in reading ability and eye hand coordination."

"My son went form a non reader to a reader. He maintains a solid B average in Jr High School. He is able to do this on his own!"

"It not only helped Marc with reading skills, it seemed to help his self esteem as well!"

"My son jumped about 2 years in reading level in 3 months of vision therapy. It was extremely helpful."

"Three months ago my son could not read. When asked to cross out letters of the alphabet he would track right to left and was unable to follow a line. By using the techniques Dr. Stavn gave us each week my son can now read and showed progress in almost every area."

2. How valuable was vision therapy compared to other things that you did before vision therapy such as special education or tutoring?( Ranked from 1 to 5 where 1 is less effective and 5 is more effective.)

Average response 4.7(80% selected 5 and none selected less than 4.)

"Our son had 6 years of special Ed plus one year of private tutoring. He always showed a little success but not the success he has had since vision therapy! Read, read, read! That's all the teachers said before we found out exactly what the problem was. All the reading in the world would not have helped! The private tutoring could get him to a certain point but we could not get him over the next hurdle. At school they put allot of pressure on Mom. You aren't reading enough they said. The blame and pressure on parent and child were intense- it just made it worse. Even holding him back in 1st grade did not help."

"It increased our awareness as to the complexity of the learning process."

"Vision Therapy took the pain, trauma, and hysteria out of doing his homework. Tutoring helped but he still read slow and laborious."

"I have spent countless hours tutoring Jeff and he just couldn't get it"

"Special Ed, tutoring, and testing with a psychologist helped but didn't solve the problem."

"Vision Therapy was the most effective of anything tried. It worked well in combination with speech and language tutoring which is slower in showing results."

"Tutoring helped but when we found out Gary had a tracking disorder, vision therapy helped him even more."

"Visual training attacks the problem of learning disabilities. Often the schools only treat the symptoms."

"When my son entered KDG trouble began. His behavior changed to anger frustration and violence. He was unable to stay on task. His medical doctor thought he might be hyperactive. The principle said if I did not do something he would end up in juvenile hall. The psychologist said he didn't qualify for help. I said if my son is above average why doesn't he know his alphabet? I was never told to have his eyes examined. I had no idea he could not see close up. The glasses and vision therapy have changed his whole attitude toward himself, learning, and he is actually calmer!"

3. After Vision Therapy, did reading ability and school performance improve?( Ranked from 1 to 5 where 1 is no improvement and 5 is much improvement.)

Average response 4.7( 80% selected 5, 18% selected 4 and one person selected 3.)

" My daughter is finally experiencing success without tremendous effort. Her reading and handwriting have improved greatly."

" He likes school. His reading has improved a great deal."

"My son can sit down now with a book 2-3 times more difficult for 2-3 times as long and he enjoys reading. All of this in 3 months! He is spending 30 minutes at least pleasure reading per day."

"Katy's reading, confidence, and maturity have all advanced noticeably during this time."

"Jeff said after 6 weeks of vision therapy, "I used to read and the words didn't make any sense. Now I read and I understand it!"

" Andy had asked for 2 years in a row to be held back because schoolwork was just too hard. Now he is at grade level and confident and content for the first time in his life."

4. Did vision therapy lead to any improvements in behavior and self esteem?
Average response 4.7

"We work on homework now, not argue. What a relief!"

"He realizes he isn't dumb anymore. He is in control of the learning process!"

"Katy reads much more smoothly now."

"He is able to handle his schoolwork better. He is more confident, more relaxed."

"He likes school now. His reading improved a great deal. He knows he is good."

" She finally was experiencing success without tremendous effort. She concentrates better because the frustration of tremendous effort is not there."

"Andy received his first A in a book report and he wanted to read aloud for the first time in his life. His comprehension is 100% improved."

Additional Comments

"Andy was in a special reading class every day at school before vision therapy. It did not benefit him other than allowing him to save face because he was 2 grades below level. I wonder why I wasn't told about vision therapy when Andy was in 1st Grade. There is a day and night change in Andy. He stopped crying and screaming when he had to do his homework."

"After tutoring Mariah for 1 and 1/2 years and seeing marginal gains, I was delighted with the progress of her vision therapy. Being a teacher of the deaf, I feel a number of my students would benefit. I feel very lucky to have discovered this as soon as I did. I feel grateful that Dr. Stavn was available to correct/direct this process. Thanks!"

"The quality of life in my household is better because of vision therapy. Andy caught up one grade level in 6 weeks."

" We would like to extend out thanks to you and your eye therapy program. Cassi's self esteem is so high she feels great about herself and all subjects in school. Her teacher has lots of wonderful things to say about her and believe me we haven't had such a wonderful conference since first grade.We sent a copy of her report card to you at Cassi's request.We appreciate what you have done and have recommended you many times to others."

" I really think Bobby would have been one of the children just passed through the school system learning nothing if it had not been for vision therapy. It's too bad it was never brought up by other eye doctors, the child's doctor, Special Ed teachers, or the school nurse or psychologist. None of the people we saw knew much if anything about vision therapy."

Every child with a reading disability should have a vision examination by a Doctor of Optometry. If you would like more information or an appointment in the Santa Rosa area or a referral in your local area you may call the office at 707-527-9137 or send us an email message.