Looking at the Past, Seeing the Future

The History of Vision Therapy

By Abbigail Willingham, Office Visionary

Why haven’t I heard of vision therapy? Is it new?

These questions usually follow right on the heels of our most asked question, what is vision therapy? It is easy to find an answer about the mechanics of vision therapy, you can find info on COVD or optometrists.org. It is a bit harder to nail down the history of vision therapy though.

Luckily for you, I have a degree in history that I have been itching to use!

Vision therapy can trace its roots to the mid-1800s when French ophthalmologist Louis Javal wanted to find a non-surgical way to treat his father and sister’s strabismus (eye turn). Javal, and others, created visual exercises called orthoptics that aimed to straighten the eye without going under the knife.

Dr. A.M. Skeffington and Dr. R.M. Peckham revolutionized vision therapy in the 1920s through their work on binocular functions and commitment to behavioral optometry (watch the video to see what Skeffington’s cutest legacy is).  The advances during their time expanded who vision therapy could help, including issues with visual attention, speed and accuracy of eye movements, hand-eye coordination, visual and spatial awareness, and more.

Peckham observed: “The old tradition that stereoscopic vision cannot be trained if it is not developed within the first few years of one’s life is found without foundation now…  For we find that when we train the faculties of attention, quick perception, and immediate muscular reflexes, that stereoscopic vision can be developed therewith.”

The first residency in the optometric field was established for vision therapy at SUNY, the State University of New York. Dr. Willingham is proud to be part of this history, by completing his residency in vision therapy and rehabilitation at SUNY.

Many optometrists included vision therapy as part of their general practice until the1960s, when more medical privileges became available to optometrists. Practices then shifted to what many think of as optometry today, prescribing glasses and contact lenses and treating various eye diseases. Vision therapy is still provided by hundreds of developmental optometrists throughout the country and has continued to develop as technology improves. Today, our vision therapy practice at Brighter Outlook Vision combines traditional methods like the Brock string with modern equipment like augmented reality with the Microsoft Hololens.

Lucy Johnson Nugent, daughter of President Lyndon B. Johnson, suffered for years from an undiagnosed vision problem.

Vision is often overlooked as a problem, with many taking it for granted. Even the President of the United States’ own child suffered for years from an undiagnosed vision problem. Read the full story of Lucy Johnson Nugent, daughter of Lyndon B. Johnson.

“I began to reflect on how my life had been radically changed by my visual training. I had gone from Ds to Bs. During my freshman year at college, I made the honor roll- and for someone who had been on scholastic probation for so long, this achievement was a thrilling one indeed. Also, my physical coordination noticeably improved. I was still far from being an athlete- but I’d come a long way.”

Lucy Johnson was so moved by her vision therapy experience, she actually worked for her optometrist for a while, “I knew the frustration that students in visual training were going through- having faced these problems myself- and decided to work for Dr. Kraskin as an assistant during the summer. I worked that summer and the following summer, while I continued to take training myself. During that time, I saw a bright little boy who was having difficulty in kindergarten transformed from an angry failure into a happy, successful student. I saw youngsters like myself go from failing grades to the honor roll. I saw young men eager to be military pilots make such marked improvement that they finally achieved their wish. One young girl who won my heart had had two unsuccessful operations to correct strabismus (crossed eyes). With persistent effort, she achieved a marked degree of control.”

If you are having an issue, call us to see if vision could be the root of the problem, and if you can be the next person helped by vision therapy’s illustrious history. 

Vision therapy began with one man wanting to help his family, and we continue his legacy by helping people have better lives, where there is no limit to their achievement because vision isn’t holding them back.