The little-known vision problem that affects 30% of struggling readers – and a simple solution to fix it!
by Laura Gordon | 11 September 2018
Is your child skipping words and lines of text? Learn why some children lose their place and how to fix it.
How much does vision affect a child’s ability to read? If a child can pass an eye test, everything should be fine, right?
The answer is more complicated than most people realize. While most of us know that children need to be able to see well in order to read well, bad eyesight is not the only visual cause of reading discomfort. Even children with 20/20 vision can have what optometrists refer to as poor binocular vision, which is when a child’s eyes do not easily work together to track, or follow, an object in our visual field. As a result, these children experience real discomfort when they read.
Eye tracking is important when we read. When we read a paragraph on a page, we need our eyes to move smoothly across the page, from left-to-right, in a series of little jumps called saccades that allow us to read each word in a line. When we finish one line, we need our eyes to slide back to the beginning of the next line easily and accurately. When a child’s eye muscles do not converge and track together easily, that movement across the page can become more difficult and more uncomfortable.
Poor eye tracking can make a difference in other areas of a child’s life, too. Reading is not the only time when your eyes need to track an object. Anything your child is trying to do at arm’s length will be made harder. If you have seen water glasses knocked over repeatedly, you will know what I mean! That is not happening due to a lack of care.
We help thousands of children each year with our Easyread System and of these struggling readers, we find that about 30% have some mild eye-tracking weakness. Below, we discuss the symptoms of eye-tracking weakness, and we offer a simple, free exercise routine that you can use to help a child overcome an eye-tracking weakness in just a few days.
The Signs of Eye Tracking Weakness
In order to spot an eye tracking weakness you need to look for behavioural patterns in the child’s reading, such as:
1. Avoiding Small Print. Children with eye-tracking weakness often prefer large text. If you provide that child with a block of small text, they might balk at the task of reading such small letters. Alternately, when you increase the text size, you may find that it is clearly easier for the child to read, or they may report that it feels more comfortable.This is because for children with poor eye tracking, the task of reading a line of small text can be too uncomfortable.
2. Increased Frustration at the End of the Day. When a child has poor eye tracking, they often find reading more challenging at the end of the day when their eyes are already tired. As a result, your child may be more likely to throw a fit or have a temper tantrum when you present him or her with text in the evening.
3. Skipping Words and Lines of Text. When you ask your son or daughter to read a book, do you find that they sometimes skip words or an entire line of text? This can also be a sign of poor eye tracking. When a child’s eyes are not able to follow text, it becomes more difficult for them to move across the page, then return to the start of the next line.
4. Inability to Follow your Finger. In severe cases you will find your child struggles to follow your finger when you move it from left to right in front of them. For example, your child might move their head or their eyes might jump while trying to follow your finger. If you find your child displays these symptoms, don’t despair. There is a simple, free exercise that you can do with them to help improve their eye-tracking.
Our Simple Exercise Routine to Fix It
The very short term workaround for this issue is to make the text size much bigger. That is not an option with a paper book, but on a Kindle you can and certainly on a computer screen. Of course we really want a proper permanent fix to the problem and luckily there is one.
There are various ways you can help a child with these difficulties, but the solution that we find works best and fastest is a simple exercise routine that we have developed and tested over the last few years. After just 10 days, it can make a real difference in how your child reads.
The secret to our approach is little and often. We find that children do best with a routine of 6 – 10 very short bursts of exercise every day for ten days. The more faithfully a child completes their exercises, the faster you will see results.
Here is what you do:
1. Ask the child to stand or sit with one arm out in front of them. Ask her to make a fist with her hand, then stick her pointer finger upwards towards the ceiling.
2. Encourage her to look at the nail base of her pointer finger so carefully that everything else except her nail is out of focus. You might even call this “laser eyes”! It should feel like she is trying to burn a hole in the finger.
3. Tell her to move her finger slowly around in an 18 inch horizontal circle. Her finger should stay at the same height, relative to the ground, as she moves it around and around. She needs to do this ten times. Make sure she KEEPS HER HEAD STILL as she focuses on the base of her nail throughout the exercise!
4. Repeat this exercise 6-10 times a day for seven days. If doing ten circles is too difficult at first, start with two and work your way up to ten. If doing ten exercises is too difficult on a busy day, try to do at least do six exercises.
For additional help in learning how to do this exercise, check out our video online to see how the exercise works.
Tips for Remembering Daily Exercises
The real secret to getting the most out of these exercises is simply remembering to do them! To keep a child on track, try these tips:
1. Set a Timer. Use the timer on your phone, a kitchen timer, or your digital watch, and set it for an hour. Do an exercise whenever the timer runs out.
2. Use a Chart. Try our helpful eye-tracking chart and record each daily exercise.
3. Connect the Exercises with Daily Routines. Use daily routines as on opportunity to finish an exercise. Here are some great times to work an eye-tracking exercise.
- While brushing teeth
- In the car
- After getting home from school
- Before snacks
- Before watching television
- After dinner
- Before bedtime
Over time, the eye tracking will improve and reading will become more comfortable with smaller text sizes. The secret is to be consistent and committed to the daily exercises. A little bit of work frequently throughout the day can make a real difference!
Once you have done the ten days and seen an improvement, we recommend maintaining 3-4 sessions per day over the coming 3-6 months to embed the new skill. If you find that the eye tracking exercises are not enough to correct your child’s eye tracking weakness, then you may need to seek additional help for him or her.
Laura Gordon was a lecturer in English literature at the University of Maryland and editor for Public Health. She is a mother of three children and is now an Easyread System Manager for David Morgan Education, supporting children and their parents on the journey to confident reading and writing.