Unusual Therapy Helps Kids Struggling In School

By Paula Ebben, WBZ-TV

BOSTON (CBS) – Few things are more frustrating for a parent than watching their child struggle in school and it’s a problem that is more common than you might think. Statistics show as many as 20% of school-age kids have some sort of reading difficulty.

For Marah Snoeyink it is more than just a statistic. Her son Jacob, who also happens to be in her second grade class, began showing signs of difficulty last year. “He couldn’t keep up with the other students,” Snoeyink recalled of Jacob’s struggles in the first grade. “My heart just hurt for him, to see him so frustrated,” she said.

A high school senior, Kimberly Temlak of Northboro, also had trouble but managed to compensate by working harder throughout her years at school. Her struggles came to a head her junior year while taking an advanced placement psychology class. “I would take a test. I would know the material and I would get questions wrong,” she explained. Her psychology teacher suggested there could be a problem with her eyes.

WBZ-TV’s Paula Ebben reports

Kimberly and Jacob were both referred to Dr. John Abondanzza of Southboro. He is a behavioral optometrist who specializes in vision therapy. “Just like physical therapy and speech therapy, there is vision therapy which is therapy for the eyes,” he said.

Many of Dr. Abondanzza’s patients actually have 20/20 vision but Dr. John, as his patients call him, says many kids have trouble tracking the words on the page. “When you get to the end of the line, you have to find your way to the beginning of the next line so losing place, skipping over words and skipping over lines is very common among kids with vision and learning problems,” he explained.

Kimberly and Jacob went through a 20 week course of exercises to help their eyes work together more efficiently. The drills include following colored lines on a spinning wheel, and reading pages of a book with different lenses which force the eyes to focus on the words.

Dr. John says most of his patients see results quickly. “By week six to eight, I expect patients to notice it’s easier for them to get their work done,” he said.

Kimberly said she finishes her homework faster and her grades have improved. Most importantly, she said, reading is easier and much more enjoyable. “It’s definitely changed my life,” she explained. “I actually cried at the end of a book and I haven’t had an emotional reaction to a book in a long time,” she said.

Some leading experts question the science behind the treatment. “Vision therapy, in the vast majority of children, does not play a role in helping a child read,” said Dr. Melanie Kazlas, a pediatric ophthalmologist at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and Children’s Hospital. Kazlas recommends traditional interventions like working with a reading specialist. “There is no harm in such treatments yet we don’t want the child to have a delay in having more effective treatment,” she said.

But Marah Snoeyink is convinced vision therapy works. She says she saw a drastic improvement in her son over the course of treatment and the vision therapy was the only thing that was different. “The scientists, they have their own data, but I have personal experience. I have seen the changes and the way it has affected my son and that makes all the difference in the world to me,” she said.

It’s making a big difference for Jacob as well. He told us he loves reading now and particularly likes a book he got for cub scouts. “It explains how to do all kinds of cool stuff,” he said.

The treatment is expensive, about $3,000 for the 20 week program. But once the student completes the program, it’s rare that they would require any additional follow-up.

More from Paula Ebben
  • Dan

    Why is the title to this article “Unusual Therapy…” The ophthalmologist quoted is biased and many kids that are helped with vision therapy have already gone through traditional reading specialists with little to no improvement!

    • Pablo

      We can only accept what we already know, were taught or believe. This is sometimes the attitude of medicine and science. Otherwise it is unusual or odd. That’s why there are many alternate therapies today that do work. Is the earth still flat or the center of the solar system? Perhaps Dr. John’s treatments don’t require a prescription, surgery, or a special ed plan. For some, it appears to work. Try going through life today without reading.

      • Dr John Abbondanza

        My point exactly. Thanks for the comment Pablo.
        Dr. John Abbondanza

  • Linda

    Wish I could afford to try this. My daughter does have a reading problem and has for years. Her proplem is with tracking words on the page. She has a special ruler to help keep track of the words. If this worked she would be reading at grade level. She is in the 4th grade and reading at the 2nd grade level. She does get help at school with her reading but if this worked she wouldn’t need the help anymore and wouldn’t mind doing reading.

    • Dr. John Abbondanza

      Linda, Sometimes there is insurance coverage for this, depending on your insurance. Every insurance is different. Feel free to email me at drjohn@greatvisioncare.com. I will see what I can do to help.

    • Deborah Miller

      You as a parent should not have to try to afford this program. These program should be available in every school linked with community Optometric specialists.I ran one program in 4 Palm Beach County Florida school. I had to go back and get a DOCTORATE that I am still working on, to attempt to do it again- for our nations schools. If Educators would just open their eyes. The teachers know that there is something else causing the reading problems for our failing youth No Child Left Behind has the right intentions but the wrong information. It is the medical profession who has resisted this work of these Optometrists who are trained in vision therapy. Their resistance is evidenced by their confounded use of the word Dyslexia. There are resolvable vision issues but for the medical eye doctors there is no incentive for them to let the functional eye vision experts become notable in this field of vision that can resolve illiteracy
      My suggestion to you is find the money somewhere it will make a difference not only in your child’s life in school but also improve all of the family dynamics….please get it done……Debbie Miller, Future Visions Youth Development, Inc a 501c3 non profit agency.

  • http://visionhelp.wordpress.com/2011/10/19/more-pediatric-ophthlamo-spin/ More Pediatric Ophthlamo-Spin « The VisionHelp Blog

    […] who does great work within our profession.  The CBS affiliate in Boston ran a generally nice piece about the work that Dr. Abbondanza is doing through optometric vision therapy, and we posted it on […]

  • Teresa

    Vision Therapy changed my sons life. He was very far behind in school, getting headaches every day and struggling with homework and schoolwork. He would skip lines and see double words sometimes. He was in special reading groups and seeing tutors and was evaluated through the school. He went through 20 weeks of vision therapy and he is now excelling in school and loves to read and his headaches are gone. The only delay in my sons treatment was not putting him in vision therapy sooner. If you child struggles I would really recommend looking into it.

  • Lynn

    My child was a patient of Dr John, and every day I am thankful that we had the opportunity and privilege to work with him and his wonderful therapists. Not only did they help make my child’s reading easier, but also copying from board to paper and lining up columns on paper correctly. Can you imagine trying to do math correctly if you’re not even seeing the columns line up?

    As to the opinion of the opthamologist from MEEI, that’s fine. She can feel that way, but rest assured, her opinion should in no way deter anyone from exploring this as an option if they feel it may help their child, or even themselves! It’s kind of like going to physical therapy for the eyes. PT, in this day and age is a very commonly used thing for all types of injuries or defects. Perhaps some day, one can hope, vision therapy will be much more commonplace and accepted as something that works.

    A different word choice for the title would have been preferable. Unusual makes it seem like a negative thing, but the positives of the work that Dr John does, I’ll let it go and let others form their own opinions as to its efficacy after completing the program.

    Thanks Dr John- you know I’ll keep spreading the word. Take care.

  • Valerie

    My son goes to a Charter School in Central CA. that was opened by a optometrist. One of the schools three underpinnings is IVL (Integrated Vision Learning) and it’s built into every classroom. Some kids are pulled out for additional Visual Therapy if they need a little extra. It’s free with the school and it’s amazing to see the light go on. Kids that normally struggled now take off and good learners get even better. Win/Win :-) I’m glad to see more people are starting to take it seriously.

    • Dr. John Abbondanza

      Thank you for your comment. I know Dr. Steve Ingersoll very well and am familiar with his techniques. What he has done in Michigan with Integrated Visual Learning in the schools he operates has transformed education in his area. I am delighted to hear that it is spreading since so many kids could be helped. Obviously, vision problems are not the only thing that hold kids back, but they are more common than people think. And when visual problems continue to interfere with school performance, they can be devastating. That is what keeps me motivated in spite of the naysayers. As you say, it is a Win/Win!!! :-)

      Best of luck to you and thank you for your comment.

      Dr. John Abbondanza

  • Peter

    Dr. John,

    Nice report on your work. I hope this brings vision therapy to the attention of more people. You mention Dr. Ingersoll in your comments and his work which is foundational for its application in schools. However the school referred to in California was developed by Dr. Eldon Rosenow another colleague of yours and Dr. Ingersoll’s.

    • Dr. John Abbondanza

      Yes, I figured that it was Dr. Rosenow in California. I know him as well. My point was to give credit to Dr. Ingersoll, who developed Integrated Visual Learning. I have no doubt that Dr. Rosenow has created a great school. I hope he opens many more. In the report above, Dr. Kazlas mentions that doing vision therapy won’t cause any harm, but it could delay help from educators. Yet, many of the referrals I get are from educators who find kids that just don’t respond well to their ‘educationall’ intervention. There are too many kids who need this help that it should be available in every school.

      Dr. John Abbondanza

      • Lynn

        Thanks for the comment on referrals from educators- while it wasn’t a teacher that suggested your office as an avenue to explore, it was an Occupational Therapist through the school district that was testing my daughter. When we were in the evaluation process, we all were on the same team. Now that her (former) teachers know about this as something that’s out there. A win/win for sure!

  • http://covdblog.wordpress.com/2011/12/05/the-splash-success-after-long-academic-struggle-highlighted-on-cbs-boston/ The Splash – Success after Long Academic Struggle Highlighted on CBS Boston « COVD Blog

    […] of the video with little Jacob saying that he now “loves to read.”  Check it out at http://boston.cbslocal.com/2011/10/18/unusual-therapy-helps-kids-struggling-in-school/. GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

  • Ophthalmologist los angeles

    The particular dispensing Opticians in fact suits the actual contact lenses or perhaps eyeglasses according to the health professional prescribed proposed by the actual Optometrist as well as Ophthalmologist.

  • Sunshine Coast Optometrist

    Having read this I thought it was extremely informative. I appreciate you finding the time and energy to put this article together. I once again find myself personally spending way too much time both reading and commenting. But so what, it was still worth it!

  • http://www.wavtc.com/?p=1484 The Splash – Success after Long Academic Struggle Highlighted on CBS Boston | WAVTC

    […] the end of the video with little Jacob saying that he now “loves to read.”  Check it out at http://boston.cbslocal.com/2011/10/18/unusual-therapy-helps-kids-struggling-in-school/.  If you feel that you or your child may struggle with a learning-related vision problem and would […]

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