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Specialty practice has eye on vision therapy

Some children suffer from a disconnection between the brain and the eyes.

July 3, 2015
| By Pat Evans |
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WOW Vision Therapy
Vision therapy addresses how the eyes and brain work together to process information. Courtesy WOW Vision Therapy

Dan Fortenbacher changed the name of his optometry practice in 2000 because he wanted it to reflect how his patients felt after receiving treatment.

That feeling, according to Fortenbacher, is “Wow!” and Wow Vision Therapy was born in the city of St. Joseph. Last summer, Wow Vision Therapy opened an office in Grand Rapids off of East Beltline Avenue at 3152 Peregrine Drive NE led by Ryan Edwards.

What started as a full-service optometry practice founded in 1979 had evolved into a specialty vision rehab center in the late 1990s.

“We go beyond primary eye health and look at the functions of vision and the process of how it coordinates you,” Fortenbacher said.

Wow Vision Therapy works mostly with children who haven’t developed the proper connection between eyes and brain. The practice also works with patients who have lost vision acuity through concussive incidents.

The lack of coordination between the eyes and brain can cause many problems in children, according to Fortenbacher, including difficulty with reading and concentration, which can lead to impatience.

Fortenbacher said children sometimes are misdiagnosed with developmental issues simply because of their poor visual motor skills. He cautioned, however, that vision issues are not the root cause of all maladies.

The practice also works to rehab cross-eyes, lazy eye and double vision, and even works with athletes to teach them how to better use their vision in tracking objects.

A person might be able to see letters during an eye test, but that does not mean they can use their eyes with the efficiency needed for a comfortable everyday life, Fortenbacher said.

Fortenbacher and his team use various therapy techniques, depending on the findings of one-on-one patient appointments, to help eye-teaming, eye-focusing and eye-movement.

He said vision therapy has been around for more than 100 years, developed originally to cure cross-eyes with a method that’s better and safer than surgery. Originally, however, there was no science behind the treatment, Fortenbacher said.

“Vision therapy is not eye exercises,” he said. “Muscle is not the problem.”

In the decades since, vision therapy has come a long way in terms of scientific backing about how eyes and the brain work together to process information.

According to the College of Optometrists in Vision Development, up to 25 percent of all school-age children have vision problems, and that rate can be as high as 60 percent for those labeled with learning problems.

“A lot of times these kids should be identified at eye doctors,” Fortenbacher said. “They’re routed to a pediatrician or psychologist. A lot of times kids that have this fall through the cracks.”

Fortenbacher said many of these eye issues are easily identifiable if teachers and school eye examines know what to look for, but they often don’t want to venture into an unknown area. He said some counties are getting on board with the exams and he hopes teachers will pick up on how to recognize visual tracking issues.

Once a patient is routed to the office — which is seeing about 300 patients a year, twice a week — the doctors design individualized therapy sessions with realistic goals and graded symptom checklists.

For typical patients, the treatments run between four and six months, he said, and because the treatment is fun and the behavior is predictable, the success rate is high. Once therapy is completed, the eyes and brain work together “on autopilot” for the rest of the patient’s life — just like riding a bike.

“We design (treatments) to be engaging and easily transferred to life,” Fortenbacher said. “We spend a lot of time with each patient, and the results are very measurable.”

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