It is so easy to take our vision for granted, especially when we read. Our eyes move from word to word, each sentence is processed in our brain, allowing us to learn or to become imaginative with every sentence. We do not realize that being able to read smoothly, quickly and accurately requires proper eye tracking abilities. Eye/visual tracking is a common term used to describe certain eye movement abilities, like the ability to accurately and quickly look at an object, to visually follow a moving object, and to efficiently move our eyes to focus from point A to point B. Unfortunately, eye tracking problems do occur and can cause major problems in a person’s everyday life, especially children with reading, writing or schoolwork.
The skills learned in a classroom at a young age build the foundation necessary to succeed in life. Eye tracking is necessary to follow a line of text across a piece of paper. If you lack proper eye tracking abilities, it is easy to lose your place when reading. Your eyes can wander around, making it difficult to concentrate and to properly take in/process what you read. This can also make copying notes off the board extremely difficult, further hindering a child’s ability to succeed. Even outside the classroom, eye tracking can lead to an array of problems regarding sports and, as the child gets older, driving. Tracking the movement of a ball or surrounding cars can become a feat.
How do eye tracking issues develop? There are 3 components of your visual system that, when faulty, will lead to problems with eye tracking. The first component is your ability to focus on words or objects. Your eyes have a built-in lens that allow it to focus on near and far objects with sharpness and clarity. Issues with this lens can result in blurry vision, which makes it beyond difficult for him/her to keep their place on the page. The second component is eye teaming. Both eyes must work together to allow you to see a single, clear image. The muscle around your eyes and the nerve pathways between your eyes and brain must be properly functioning for good eye teaming, but if they are not, you may see double or blurry vision. Words in books or on the board may look like they are swimming around the page. Skipping lines or misreading sentences are also common. The third component is functional peripheral vision. Peripheral vision allows you to see both ends of a line, which can help with accurate eye movements when reading. Those with a narrower field of vision may only see a few words at a time, making it difficult to track a line of words.
Ignoring any signs that a child may have issues with their eye tracking abilities can be detrimental to their success and can have a negative effect on their self-confidence. It is difficult to accept the idea that you are having trouble with something that everybody else seems to be getting and understanding. So how can we prevent all of this? How can we tell that a child cannot properly track? Here are some symptoms to look out for:
- Head excessively moves while reading
- Skipping lines when reading
- Leaving out or switching up words when reading
- Losing place when reading
- Needing to use their finger or a marker to keep their place when reading
- Child complains of seeing words swimming on a page
- Have trouble when playing with a ball
If your child or somebody you know is exhibiting one or more of these symptoms, vision therapy is an excellent treatment option. Vision therapy helps train the eyes to properly and accurately look from target to target. It involves weekly sessions with an optometrist to not only develop the basic skills to track words and objects, but to also minimize visual fatigue and discomfort.