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Monday, April 25, 2011

Visual Processing Effects on Reading Part 1

One of the most complex activities that the brain performs is reading, and one of the most important parts of reading is the proper movement of the eyes across the page of print to be able to read that print.  Eye movements are the fastest and most frequent movements made by the human body.  Ocular motor control refers to the control and coordination of eye muscles/movements needed to read print on a page.  Ocular motor dysfunction is one of the main causes of poor reading.

Eye movements are controlled by three pairs of muscles that control three different types of eye movements: moving side to side (left to right when reading), moving up and down (moving down to the next line of text, or moving from your notes to the board), and rotating to keep the visual image upright.

When students are given vision screenings for school, they are usually ONLY tested for visual acuity at a distance of 20 feet and for color blindness.  Most reading is done within an arm's length, so the standard eye chart test does not screen for NEAR vision skills, the skills that are in constant demand of students when performing school tasks. Furthermore, the Snellen Eye Chart that is still used today in screenings was developed way back in 1862 to be used during the Civil War!  Needless to say, most standard school vision screenings have limitations in identifying visual problems that may interfere with a student's school performance.

Due to invention of visually passive items like video games, computer screens, and cell phones, near vision problems are becoming an epidemic in school age children.  The National Eye Institute found a 66% increase in in nearsightedness (myopia) from the early 1970's.  Children are spending less and less time outside where vision is stimulated by focusing on objects further away.

Numerous studies have shown that good eye tracking and attentional skills are directly related to reading readiness.  It has been observed that children younger than 7 years old often have inadequate eye movements for reading readiness.  Most 5 year olds have difficulty performing accurate eye movements used in moving from one word to the next of printed text.  So, why are asking our children to read in kindergarten?  The United States has the highest incidence of learning disabled children while Europe demonstrates a much lower incidence of learning disabilities in children.  Research has shown most European nations don't start students reading until 7 years of age.  There is something to be said about outdoor play and allowing young children to develop in an age appropriate manner.

Coming Next:  Part 2:  Symptoms of Poor Eye Tracking Skills

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