Vision therapy assists with learning disabilities, sports vision and traumatic brain injuries |

Vision therapy assists with learning disabilities, sports vision and traumatic brain injuries

Teresa Ristow
Rae Olexa, 5, works with vision therapist Melanie Kilpatrick at the Vision Development Center located in the Old Pilot Building. Kilpatrick uses exercises to help Rae achieve normal vision. One of Rae's eyes tends to wander, causing double vision.
John F. Russell

Standing in front of a large television monitor, doctor of optometry Natalie Hansen touches red dots on alternating sides of the screen using each of her hands.

When she touches a dot directly, it disappears, but when she’s not so precise, Hansen must try again.

The exercise, run by vision therapist Melanie Kilpatrick, is one way to improve a person’s peripheral vision and sharpen their sight.

“Your eye movement skills are the finest of your motor skills,” said Kilpatrick, a vision therapist and optician for Eyecare Specialties of Northwest Colorado, a practice with offices in Steamboat Springs and Craig.

Kilpatrick primarily works with children whose vision problems aren’t as simple as being near- or far-sided.

Some have learning disabilities or have recently had a concussion, while other patients have suffered traumatic brain injuries or want to improve sporting vision.

Eyesight problems like tracking, eye-teaming, a turned eye or a lazy eye might not be adequately or fully corrected by glasses alone or by glasses at all, but vision therapy can help, Kilpatrick said.

About half of the patients she sees are also using glasses or contacts.

Patients are referred to Kilpatrick, who works in an office on the lower level of the Old Pilot Building, and in Craig, by Hansen and Craig Eckroth, another optometrist and one of the founders of Northwest Colorado Eyecare Specialties.

Hansen said that when a child comes in for an appointment they identify various vision problems the person might be having.

If they’re experience numerous vision problems, including double vision, reversals and skipping words when reading, Hansen sees it as a red flag that vision therapy may be worth exploring.

Traumatic brain injury patients are almost always good candidates for vision therapy too, Hansen said.

Rather than just sitting at a desk or at a computer and performing exercises, Kilpatrick uses a variety of vision exercises that can incorporate the whole body.

During an exercise with a vectogram, the patient puts on polarized glasses and looks at a light box with two charts, each viewable by one eye. As the charts are moved, the patient is practicing convergence, or eye alignment, a skill for looking at something up close.

“It’s heightening their sense of awareness, so they can control their visual system,” Hansen said.

Other exercises focus on balance and precision.

People referred to vision therapy usually meet with Hansen once a week for eight to ten weeks before returning to the doctor of optometry to evaluate their progress.

The treatment can often lead to improved school performance for children, Kilpatrick said, and Eyecare Specialties is interested in working more directly with schools to identify and help students with vision problems.

More information about vision therapy can be found on the Eyecare Specialties website at

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow

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