Monthly Archives: August 2014

Vision Therapy Activity – Sight Words Search and Tracking

When a child has difficulty with reading because he struggles with losing his place, skipping words or lines, recognizing, remembering, or spelling words, or reversing letters, these challenges may indicate an undetected learning-related vision problem. Your child might have visual processing skills deficiencies or underdeveloped eye movement skills, making it difficult to coordinate eye muscles or process visual information correctly and efficiently.

Only a functional vision exam by an optometrist who specializes in developmental vision care can diagnose or rule out a learning-related vision problem. Fortunately, if your child is diagnosed with a learning-related vision problem, vision therapy can help significantly. A comprehensive vision therapy program, complete with intensive vision training by a qualified vision therapist is most effective when supplemented by practice at home.

At the Visual Learning Center in Olney, MD, we encourage the patients in our vision therapy programs to practice a variety of activities at home.

Today, we have two activities involving ‘sight words’ to introduce you to. The first is a tracking activity and the second is a sight words word search. The tracking activity packet uses sight words and is designed to develop and strengthen not only spelling skills but also eye movement skills and visual processing skills in the areas of ‘figure ground’ and ‘figure concentration.’

Watch the video to learn more and view a demonstration:

Download your tracking packet HERE.

The tracking packet is broken up into varying levels of difficulty and is appropriate for beginning and remedial readers. Level one is the easiest, and each activity asks the child to spell a word, starting on the first row, going from left to right, as if we were reading, we find and circle the letters of the word in the proper sequence and record the time it takes.

If necessary, the person doing the activity can use a finger to keep his or her place, but only up to level 3, by which point the patient should be tracking only with the eyes.

The goal of practicing with the tracking packet is to increase the speed it takes to go through each activity, and do so without errors from skipping a letter or missing the target word.

The word search activity is more challenging and is also broken down by level of difficulty. In beginning levels, you see words that are used more frequently in printed materials than later levels. You can add a timer as an element to increase difficulty.

child with vision problem

9 Signs Your Child May Have an Undiagnosed Vision Problem

Vision problems that affect learning are all-too-often overlooked or misdiagnosed. Eye exams conducted at your child’s school or by your family eye doctor typically only screen for the ability to see clearly at a distance; so it is possible for the results to show 20/20 vision without detecting an eye movement problem or visual processing deficiency. To detect a learning-related vision problem, your child would need to undergo a thorough functional vision exam by an optometrist trained in developmental vision care.

However, without awareness of the signs of a learning-related vision problem, parents and education professionals tend to mistake the vision problem for a learning disability, dyslexia, or attention deficit disorder (ADD/ADHD). Unfortunately, many children struggle in school because of an undiagnosed vision problems for years unnecessarily, when the problem could improve significantly with vision therapy.

Montgomery County Parents: Don’t miss Dr. Nicholson’s upcoming webinar. Click here to register and learn about how undetected vision problems could be interfering with your child’s performance in school.

Here are 9 signs your child may have an undetected vision problem:

1. Skipping while reading or writing

Problems with eye muscle coordination, such as eye tracking and eye teaming, may cause a child to skip words or lines while reading or writing. You may notice your child losing his place while reading or copying from the board, rereading words or lines, or using a finger, pencil or some other tool in an attempt to maintain his place while reading or writing.

2. Reversing or getting confused

Children with visual processing problems commonly confuse their left with their right, or reverse letters, numbers, or words. This is why parents often suspect dyslexia. You may also notice that your child confuses similar looking words or substitutes words while reading.

3. Below average reading performance

You may wonder why your bright child is having difficulty reading, or reading very slowly, carefully, and without confidence. Children with deficient visual processing skills, such as visual memory, also have difficulty comprehending and remembering what they have read, as well as trouble with spelling.

4. Poor handwriting skills

If your child has exceptionally messy handwriting with crooked or poorly spaced letters and words, this might indicate a vision problem. He could be misaligning words or letters because he is having trouble with eye teaming or eye tracking.

5. Noticeable coping behaviors

Have you noticed your child squinting or bending close to her paper to read, even though her eyesight is 20/20? Have you seen her covering or closing one eye or tilting her head to an unusual angle while reading? These behaviors could be to compensate for an eye muscle coordination problem.

6. Attention problems

Often, children with vision problems are mistakenly thought to have attention deficit disorder (ADD/ADHD). Because of eye movement problems and deficiencies in their visual processing skills, they are constantly struggling in school and become frustrated. For this reason, the child may seem restless in the classroom environment or during homework, avoid activities that require visual concentration, or “act out” with disruptive behavior, much like children with ADD/ADHD.

7. Physical response

Children with vision problems are constantly overcompensating for their deficiencies and straining, so resulting physical symptoms are common. You may notice your child has headaches or exhaustion after reading or other intense visual activities, complaints that their eyes hurt or feel tired, or excessively dry, watery eyes, or red eyes. You may also see them blinking excessively or rubbing their eyes. Another related physical symptom is unexplained  motion sickness.

8. Sight abnormalities

A child with vision problems may complain of double vision or blurred vision, especially when looking up and down, such as copying from the board. There may be a sensitivity to light. He may complain that the text on the page is going in and out of focus, moving, or jumping, or that lines and letters are running together. Because it is possible this way of seeing is all they know, they could find it challenging to describe what they are experiencing, so pay close attention.

9. Body movement and awareness

Aside from learning-related activities, a child with vision problems may also have difficulty in social settings or in sports. She may have trouble with clumsiness, poor coordination, slow hand-eye coordination, or awkwardness with personal space boundaries.

Overall, the signs and symptoms of vision problems that affect children are varied and diverse. Coupled with lack of awareness about eye movement and visual processing skills, misdiagnosis is common. If you have noticed any combination of these symptoms in your child, schedule a functional vision exam with an optometrist trained in developmental vision care. Once diagnosed, the good news is, an individualized vision therapy program can result in significant improvement in a relatively short period of time.

If you are in the Olney or Silver Spring, MD area, contact Dr. Philip Nicholson’s Visual Learning Center today for an appointment.

Vision Therapy Exercise: Stickman Activity Packet

When a child has difficulty with reading, concentrating, confusing their left and right sides, or reversing letters, their challenges may indicate an undiagnosed vision problem. He or she could be struggling with eye movement skills or visual processing skills due to an underdeveloped ability to move or coordinate their eye muscles or an inability to process visual information through the brain efficiently.

A functional vision exam by an optometrist who specializes in developmental vision care can either rule out or diagnose a learning-related vision problem. If a child is found to have a vision problem that cannot be corrected with eyeglasses, a comprehensive, individualized vision therapy program often leads to significant improvement in a relatively short amount of time.

Eye movement skills or visual processing skills can be trained and developed through practicing a prescribed set of activities that a child will undergo with the guidance of a trained vision therapist. At the Visual Learning Center in Olney, MD, we suggest students supplement their in-office therapy with practice at home.

The Stickman Activity is one such exercise, designed to improve eye movement skills and visual processing skills. Working through and practicing this activity can improve the following skills:

  • Laterality and directionality — required for writing and recognizing orientation and direction
  • Figure ground — required to distinguish an image relative to its background or context
  • Visual concentration – required to fixate attention long enough to complete tasks and for comprehension

The vision therapy stickman activity is simple but effective. The person doing the activity is instructed to view a sheet that contains simple drawings of a figure wearing one glove or shoe, then say which hand is wearing the glove or which foot has a shoe on it. The goal is to first reach accuracy, then enhance difficulty by increasing speed or including rhythm elements.

Download your activity packet here.

Watch the video below for a demonstration:


summer reading

Summer Vision Screening: When a Bright Child Struggles in School Summer is the Season to Discover Why

As your child wraps up another school year, now may be a good time to reassess his or her progress and struggles. You might be asking yourself some of the following questions and wondering what you can do to help set your child up for success as a student:

  • Did my child advance this year or seem to fall behind?
  • Is my child reading on-level, or still having difficulty keeping up with classmates?
  • Did my child’s behavior disrupt his learning environment this year?
  • Does social awkwardness or clumsiness seem to be interfering with my child’s happiness or self-esteem?

If you are concerned about your child’s performance in school, or perhaps in social interactions and sports, summer is the season to focus on getting to the root of your child’s difficulties and finding the best available help.

If you and your child are dreading making your way through the summer reading list, it may be time to figure out why what could be an enjoyable activity has become such a chore.

When a child struggles in school, summer can be a welcome break from suffering through long days in the classroom and tackling difficult homework assignments in the evenings. Without the daily stress of school, summer can also be the best time to schedule assessments for learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, perceptual deficiencies that could be interfering with learning, and start treatment.

What you may not have considered is that one possible culprit behind your child’s struggles could be a vision problem. Learning-related vision problems are often over-looked because symptoms sometimes mimic or appear similar to learning disabilities, dyslexia, or attention deficit disorder.

Register for an upcoming webinar here.

Children with vision problems that interfere with learning are often found to have “20/20” eyesight when they undergo typical vision screenings at school or with the family eye doctor, so parents and teachers may not suspect a problem with vision. A more thorough functional vision exam is needed to uncover visual processing deficiencies.

When a child’s vision system does not work efficiently, visual skills deficiencies can contribute to learning problems. For the learning process to work as it should, your child must first be able to see, then use what he sees to understand. The ability to see letters on a chart for an eye exam is not enough — 20/20 is just the beginning.

Symptoms of vision problems include, but are not limited to:

  • Squinting while reading near or far
  • Rubbing red, irritated, or watering eyes
  • Rubbing temple or forehead and complaining of headaches
  • Complaints of dizziness or motion sickness
  • Skipping words or losing place while reading
  • Confusing similar words
  • Reversing letters
  • Being easily distracted, inattentive, unable to stay on task
  • Disruptive behavior, especially after expressing frustration with work
  • Poor hand-eye coordination, depth perception, or awkwardness and clumsiness
  • Performing noticeably better on oral vs. written demonstrations of learning

If you or your child’s teacher have noticed any of these symptoms, take your child to an optometrist that specializes in developmental and functional care for an in-depth vision screening this summer. If your child is found to have a problem with eye focusing, eye teaming, eye tracking, or visual processing, you could be one step closer to having answers you need to improving your child’s performance in school and self-esteem.

The good news is, with an individualized vision therapy program, significant progress can be made within a relatively short period of time, even in time for next school year.

If you live in or near Olney, MD, contact Dr. Philip Nicholson, O.D. and his staff at the Visual Learning Center. Call 301-570-4611 for a comprehensive assessment and to see if your child might significantly benefit from vision therapy this summer.