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Optometrist Tells Congress Patients Need ‘Brain Care,’ Along With Eye Care 

Eye-Ear Testing Could Put More Kids in Regular Classrooms

Many children categorized as needing “special education” because of their learning struggles could return to the regular classroom simply by improving their eye-ear coordination or correcting an imbalance between their central and peripheral eyesight.

That was the key message delivered to the leader of the Congressional Neuroscience Caucus by Northbrook, Ill. optometrist Deborah Zelinsky, OD. Dr. Zelinsky was in Washington, D.C. recently as a participant in the 9th annual Brain Mapping Briefing, coordinated by The Society for Brain Mapping and Therapeutics (SBMT) and the Brain Mapping Foundation. She is a board member of the SBMT and a scientist internationally known for her clinical application of the latest principles of neuro-optometric rehabilitation in evaluating eye-ear integration.

“An optometrist may determine that a child has 20/20 eyesight with or without glasses, and a hearing specialist conclude that this same child has normal hearing ability, but children are entering kindergarten without their parents knowing how well those sensory systems work together,” said Dr. Zelinsky, who is founder and executive research director of the Mind-Eye Institute (www.mindeye.com).

Through proper evaluation of sensory systems and use of therapeutic lenses – “brain” glasses, the Mind-Eye Institute has been transforming the classroom lives of children.

“The retina is composed of brain tissue and serves as a two-way portal into the mind and body. By changing the way light passes through the retina, we can affect how the brain reacts to information about the environment and modify a person’s spatial awareness, body posture and selective attention to sound,” Dr. Zelinsky indicated in her presentation.

Using optometric interventions to selectively stimulate light dispersed on the retina, Dr. Zelinsky’s Mind-Eye Institute team helps patients redevelop visual skills during recovery from debilitating, life-altering symptoms of brain injuries, including concussions and stroke. The Mind-Eye Institute also helps develop new visual skills in patients – children and adults alike – who have been diagnosed with learning problems.

Dr. Zelinsky has long emphasized that state and national laws – and methods of testing – must change to counter what experts are calling a “rise in learning disabilities.” She even calls for the creation of a new CPT (medical billing) code to allow reimbursement of patients – and families – who undergo advanced optometric testing for brain function.

“In 1839, West Point screened Ulysses S. Grant with the same eye test used today for kindergartners. Society – and our understanding of neuro-optometry and the critical connections between the brain and eye — has advanced dramatically since the 1800s, but we rely on testing methods that are more than 150 years old,” she told the Congressional Caucus. “The concept of 20/20 was invented in 1862, emphasizing seeing stationary targets clearly. Today’s technology requires the ability to glimpse at moving targets, a skill that calls for peripheral eyesight, which is only minimally tested during eye examinations.”

Like eye-hand coordination, synchronization of sight and sound does not fully develop in a child until about age 8. Often, teachers’ expectations of children at earlier age levels surpass their developmental stage. Similarly, a child’s struggles to learn after age 8 can be due to an under-developed visual-hearing linkage, says Dr. Zelinsky.

Years ago, reading was not heavily emphasized until the third grade, when children had a more solid eye-ear connection. Now, even preschoolers are being taught how to recognize sight words (visual development) and how to sound out words (auditory development). If the child has not linked the two systems, they will often either be a poor speller or be unable to sound out words easily, Dr. Zelinsky says.

“In the school setting, a student has to maintain awareness of a teacher’s facial expressions, body posture and movements while looking at information presented on a classroom screen or board and simultaneously listening and comprehending what the teacher is saying,” Dr. Zelinsky explains. “Shifting gaze – and attention — from teacher to note-taking needs to be automated, and is accomplished by ‘tuning out’ distractions, such as whispering of nearby students or sounds of others shuffling papers. Many visual and auditory systems must be combined.”

Too frequently, a child who struggles to learn is diagnosed as having a neurological problem, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and is transferred into a special-education program, when what the child actually requires is testing to determine how well his or her eyes, ears and other sensory systems are integrated, she says.

In her presentation to the Congressional Caucus, Dr. Zelinsky reported that, with proper evaluation, the “trajectory of many children’s lives would change,” and millions of dollars saved. “The state of Illinois, for example, spends $8,000 annually per child in special education. If just 100 children were identified and helped by an eye-ear integration evaluation, the state would save $4 million by having them transfer from special education to a regular classroom,” she says.

Dr. Zelinsky concluded by telling Congressmen that “the entire field of optometry must adapt to advances in brain mapping. We have to update standard eye care into brain care.”

Brain Mapping Day focuses on “educating policymakers about state-of-the-art diagnostics, technology and therapeutics in clinical translational neuroscience.” Main themes of this year’s program were brain health, opioid addiction, mental health and neurotechnology.

In addition to Dr. Zelinsky’s call for a new approach to screening linkage of children’s eyes and ears, the SBMT seeks Congressional support of a program that would allow reimbursable brain scans for at-risk patients. Just as regular mammograms and colorectal screenings are covered by Medicare and third-party payors, so should brain scans for patients who are at higher risk for aneurysms or brain tumors, SBMT board members say

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