One of the most frequent complaints by parents is that their child loses his place while reading. You may notice when you read with your child that he misses words and sometimes skips whole sentences. Initially, you might suspect he is is being careless or impatient, that he isn’t paying attention closely enough, or that he is choosing to skip unfamiliar or challenging words. However, a visual processing problem such as poor eye tracking skills could be to blame for your child’s difficulty with reading. Tracking skills are the specific eye movements a child uses as they scan a line of text. Even in a normal healthy visual system, these movements are not smooth, left-to-right shifts. Instead, the movements are a series of “jumps” and “fixations.” To read, the eye jumps across the text and fixates on certain points; with each fixation, the child takes in either a whole word or part of a word while the eye is momentarily stationary. The child decodes and process a word, and then the eyes fixate on the next word and pause briefly to decode and process it. Eye tracking is a very complex process and involves many different areas of the brain. Readers with normal healthy vis ProcessInt can control the eye tracking process well, and their eyes move mostly in a left to right manner across the page, jumping from word to word and sometimes around the page, but without skipping words or losing their place. When a child skips words or sentences, they have to go back to re-read and work hard to grasp the meaning of a given passage. As a result, these children may score poorly in reading comprehension, not because of a low level of verbal intelligence, but simply because their visual processing system does not function as it should.
Clinical evidence indicates that there are three components of the visual system that tend to cause the majority of tracking problems in reading:
1. Focusing problems. The internal muscles of your eye help control your ability to focus, or see things clearly. Focusing problems cause intermittent blurry vision and/or difficulty sustaining attention either of which make it more difficult for a person to keep their place on the page. This is also one of the culprits for accurately copying notes from the board or slides.
2. Eye teaming problems. There are six external muscles around each eye which control eye movements. These eye muscles must work in a coordinated fashion for your eyes to work together and follow a line of text across the page.
If you’re having difficulty with eye teaming, you may experience intermittent double vision or blurry vision. Sometimes the words look like they are moving on the page. Sometimes the person is able to keep things single, but with a great deal of effort. Many people with eye teaming problems tend to skip lines or misread sections. Note that people with constant strabismus (one eye always turned and the most obvious type of eye teaming problem) may not have any difficulty keeping their place as they are using only one eye to read.
3. Functional peripheral vision. A peripheral vision problem in this case is not the same as a visual field loss, where parts of the eye or brain are damaged. It’s more functional – can a person see both ends of the line when they’re reading at the same time? The ability to do so is critical for accurate eye movements from the end of one line to the beginning of the next. Some people have functional peripheral visual fields that are so small that they cannot process a whole word at once or a few words at a time. This makes it extremely difficult to move accurately from word to word or group of words to group of words across the line for fluent reading.
Any or all of these parts of the visual system may be performing poorly and cause tracking problems. Adding complexity to the issue is the fact that they are all so inter-dependent, and an issue in one area could affect another.
The key is to try and pinpoint the issue(s) through in-depth testing, the kind accomplished through a Functional Vision Test.