How Vision Therapy Helped One Student Go From Barely Reading to Valedictorian 

This post is sponsored by The Vision Therapy Center - they have a location in Madison, WI.

As a child, Ethan was curious, warmhearted, and obviously bright. But when it came to reading, he struggled. And though he excelled in areas like math, science, and listening comprehension, Ethan remembers that by third grade he could “barely read or spell.”

His parents and his teachers were mystified. Could it be his vision? Ethan’s mom, Beth, says he had gone to an optometrist when he was around five. She was told he had 20/20 vision.

“We were under the assumption that 20/20 means everything was great. We later found out that’s not the case,” says Beth.

Ethan’s parents were on the verge of planning for special education support for him. But as a last ditch effort, his teacher suggested having Ethan’s vision examined again. 

Note: This article originally appeared on

Ethan’s 20/20 Vision Was Not the Whole Story

An optometrist confirmed that Ethan did indeed have 20/20 vision. But when she also took the time to do a basic eye-tracking exercise with Ethan, she discovered a symptom of a functional vision problem.

As Beth remembers, “I watched and I saw his eyes bounce all over the place. The optometrist looked at me and said, ‘I think this is the problem.’”

Functional vision is how your entire visual system — the eyes, the brain, the visual pathways — work together to help you interact with your environment. 

Not all optometrists have the advanced training or equipment required to diagnose and treat functional vision problems. Ethan’s parents researched the possibilities. That brought them to The Vision Therapy Center, where Ethan was given a functional vision exam.

Diagnosing Ethan’s Problems and Finding Hope

A functional vision exam goes beyond a conventional vision test, which primarily measures visual acuity, or 20/20 eyesight. For a functional vision exam, a developmental optometrist will first review the patient’s health and eye history, focusing on visual problems and symptoms. 

This information is used to tailor the exam, which can include tests for typical learning-related vision problems. Different tests may be required for other types of issues (for example, developmental delay, brain injury, or sports-related vision problems).

Ethan’s exam indicated he had specific problems with eye teaming and eye focusing — visual skills that are crucial for normal functional vision.

To address Ethan’s functional vision problems, we recommended optometric vision therapy, which helps a patient learn how to correctly process the visual information that the brain receives from the eyes. 

Over a period of nine months, Ethan would need to complete daily at-home vision exercises, along with weekly in-office visits to support his progress. It wouldn’t be easy, but Ethan now had a path of help – and hope.

Ethan’s Reading Skills (and Life) Are Transformed by Optometric Vision Therapy

Ethan’s mom recalls that within the first couple of months of vision therapy, she started to notice progress, like him being able to sound out words better. “And within six months he was improving in leaps and bounds. It was unbelievable.”

Flash forward to the end of middle school. She says, “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I have to tell him to put his book down because it’s time for dinner!’ I couldn’t believe it was the same kid whose reading challenges were bringing him — and me — to tears just a few years earlier.”

On top of that, the standardized test Ethan took in eighth grade showed he was reading at an 11th grade level.

With the ‘Roadblock’ Removed, Ethan Graduates at the Top of His Class

In the spring of 2020, Ethan graduated from the STEM Institute in Fond du Lac as valedictorian of his high school class. 

He is now attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison and majoring in biology, with intentions to become a medical doctor.

“I can remember when he first said he wanted to be a doctor many years ago. I worried that it would never be possible if he couldn’t become a strong reader. Yes, Ethan has had to work extremely hard. But vision therapy has been the key to opening up the possibilities for him,” says Beth.

“Vision therapy took the roadblock out of my path,” says Ethan. “It let me be myself. Without it, I was just stuck. But now I have nothing holding me back!”   

A Vision Quiz Can Be the First Step Toward Detecting a Problem

If you think your child may be suffering from vision problems similar to Ethan’s, the first step toward diagnosis is to take the Vision Quiz. It can help identify if your child is suffering from any of the symptoms associated with functional vision problems. Click here to take the Vision Quiz.

About the author: Dr. Kellye Knueppel is an award-winning developmental optometrist specializing in vision related learning problems, sports vision, and rehabilitative optometry. She is board certified in vision development as a Fellow of the College of Optometrists in Vision Development. Since opening The Vision Therapy Center in 1995, she has dedicated herself to helping people overcome their visual problems.

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