Concocting a Cure for Kids With Issues

New York Times article by Judith Warner

Appelbaum is a behavioral optometrist, part of a growing subspecialty of optometry that takes the traditional practice beyond its usual focus on eye health and eyesight. Through a practice referred to as vision therapy — a combination of in-office and at-home eye exercises — many of these optometrists claim they can offer significant help for problems that go far beyond the headaches, neck aches, eyestrain and poor posture typically associated with vision problems. According to, a behavioral-optometry Web site, vision therapy can be used to treat reading problems, learning problems, spelling problems, attention problems, hyperactivity, coordination problems; it can also treat a child who experiences “trouble in sports,” who “frustrates easily,” displays “poor motivation,” and “does not work well on his own” — virtually anything that presents as an “impaired potential for achievement,” to borrow a phrase from the prominent late optometrist Martin H. Birnbaum. They can do this because for behavioral optometrists, vision isn’t just about eyes or eyesight but is also something more holistic — “how eyes work together and move together and process information and store information and do something with the information,” as Appelbaum puts it. Vision therapists caution that they cannot cure “real” cases of A.D.H.D., dyslexia or other learning disabilities. But since they say that such disorders in children are frequently misdiagnosed, the distinction often is moot.

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