Is your child having trouble reading? Have you noticed them skipping letters, words, or entire lines of text? Perhaps they start off strong and then seem to get tired or lose interest quickly.
Getting to the bottom of what’s causing reading problems in children can be challenging. You may wonder if their difficulties are caused by dyslexia, a learning disability, or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD). What you may not have considered is that a learning-related vision problem could be to blame.
If a student has passed a typical vision screening, the child’s teacher or reading specialist will rarely suspect a vision problem to account for their reading difficulties. Most educational professionals are trained to believe 20/20 eyesight rules out the possibility that vision deficiencies could cause reading difficulties.
A typical eye exam only tests for clear vision at a distance for as long as it takes to look at a chart. But reading requires close, focused, sustained vision, smooth and coordinated eye movement, and the efficient processing of information through the visual system.
Normal oculomotor movement while reading occurs as a series of “fixations” and “jumps”– the eye fixates on certain points within the text and then jumps to another point. When we read, we take in either part of a word or a whole word each time we fixate or pause. Next, that word processes through the visual system. And then our eyes fixate briefly on the next word or word fragment, just long enough to see and process it.
In a healthy visual system, this process of fixating and jumping occurs without disruption or weakness. But a child with an eye tracking or eye teaming problem strains to accurately and efficiently control eye movements. While their classmates’ eyes move along a line of text smoothly with little effort, oculomotor dysfunction causes the eyes to jump erratically.
You may not be able to detect the irregular eye movement upon observation because even subtle problems can interfere with learning and performance. Slight eye movement deviations can make it challenging to read and write without becoming fatigued, skipping text, or losing one’s place.
Eye tracking is a complex function that involves our ocular muscles as well as many different areas of the brain. When someone with a healthy visual system reads or writes, eye tracking movements are not smooth as they scan along the text from left to right; however the movements are controlled, efficient, and unconsciously effortless.
For a child with oculomotor dysfunction, reading requires strained effort that becomes especially apparent as paragraphs and reading assignments grow longer. So you may notice a child who reads “on level” in Kindergarten begins to fall behind by second or third grade.
Because the eye muscles are not functioning in a normal healthy way, the child will often lose their place while reading or copying from the board, reread words or lines repeatedly, or try to cope by sliding a finger or pencil across the page as they read.
The video below is an actual eye movement recording using state-of-the-art technology to analyze for the presence of teaming and tracking problems.
As you will see in the recording, the child noticeably slows down as she gets to the last few sentences. This suggests that she grew tired of the strained effort required to follow the text. Imagine what this would look like after reading a chapter.
The video demonstrates one aspect of a comprehensive functional vision exam conducted in our office by an optometrist who specializes in developmental vision care to diagnose or rule out a learning-related vision problem.
If you suspect your child may have a learning-related vision problem, contact your local developmental optometrist as soon as possible. To schedule a comprehensive vision exam and access vision therapy in Olney, MD near Silver Spring, contact us at Dr. Philip Nicholson’s Visual Learning Center.