You’ve read to your child since he or she was a baby, instilling the love for reading in him or her early. You taught him or her his letter sounds in kindergarten and phonics later on. He or she knows how to read but consistently resists it. You’ve purchased books that have inviting covers that ooze with excitement. The books sit in the same place everyday, unopened by anyone but you. You love reading and you want your child to love it. But, you can’t make him or her love reading. What do you do now?
Despite the best efforts of many parents and teachers, many children never become recreational readers because they have a visual processing problem that is making reading more work than they want to do even though they love the information that they receive from books.
Symptoms of Stress in the Visual System
- Reading reversals (such as “was” for “saw” and “on” for “no”).
- Skipping of words or lines when reading.
- Rubbing of eyes after reading.
- Oral reading that is smooth at the beginning of the page but becomes more laborious the longer the child reads.
- Mispronunciation of simple words like “in,” “of,” and “to.”
- Preference for large-print books.
If your child or student exhibits some of these symptoms, it would be worthwhile to do some further investigating to determine the depth of this problem.
Parents and teachers should check the child’s eye dominance. You can give the child an empty tube and ask him or her to sight with it, using it to see a distant object. Or, use a camera and have him or her take a picture. Observe which eye the child sights with. If the child is left eye dominant we have a clue.
In Japan, they read their characters from top to bottom; we read from left to right. To do this efficiently, we use our right eye to lead in reading. When a child is left eye dominant, he or she will begin the reading process by using his or her right, or non-dominant, eye but switch to his or her left, or dominant, eye when he or she reads further and becomes tired. This is when he or she will tend to skip words or lines or even reverse smaller words such as “of” into “to.” We would not consider changing a child’s eye dominance; however we can make the visual process more efficient by using some simple exercises that encourage both eyes to work together without stress.
Check to see how the child tracks his eyes from left to right. There are five parts to reading and the most basic part is the mechanics of the eyes tracking smoothly from left to right. Take an interesting target and stand in front of the child with about 1 ½ feet between you. Move the target slowly from left to right about 8 times, having the child follow the target with his or her eyes. This is the same movement that his or her eyes need to make when he or she is reading. Have the child hold his or her head relatively still, without being stiff. Watch to see if the child shows signs of visual stress, such as:
- His or her eyes shift off of the target.
- His or her eyes get wider as he or she moves them.
- His or her eyes water.
- The child rubs his or her eyes when finished.
There are several things that you can do that will help alleviate this stress if you see signs of it in the child’s visual system. You can have him perform an eye exercise that promotes eye teaming abilities while crossing the midline of the body called the Eye Eight exercise. Have the child hold his or her thumb out in front of his or her body while moving their arm in the formation of an eight lying on its side. The movement starts at the midline—where the buttons of his shirt are—and goes up in the middle, then slowly to the left, then to the right. The eyes follow the motion of the thumb. Do this with the right hand for six full revolutions. Then, switch hands and do six eights with the left hand. To complete this exercise, place both thumbs together—elbows extended—and repeat the exercise, this time also moving the neck and head.
The reason why the child has to work harder at reading is because the process of eye tracking has not become automatic. The right brain hemisphere is responsible for the automatic movement of the eyes while the left-brain is responsible for thinking about the contents. To further encourage this eye tracking process, you could have the child perform the Eye Eight exercise and then look upper right while doing the Cross Crawl exercise (touching a hand to the opposite knee). Do this for about a minute. This causes the right, automatic hemisphere, to become activated for the process of eye tracking and greatly increases the effect of the eye exercise. I call this process Brain Training and was initially put together by Dr. Dennison, a Ph.D. in special education. It is part of Brain Integration Therapy and has proven to be extremely effective for children who have any information-processing problem. For further information, refer to my Brain Integration Therapy Manual.
Check the child for glare sensitivity. Does the child often take his or her reading assignment to a part of the room that has less light than the other areas? Many times, these children avoid bright lights because of the glare that they experience. This is called “scotopic sensitivity”. These children also squint with bright light outside and are bothered by the glare of headlights when in a car at night. There are two things that are helpful in reducing the impact of this problem. Colored overlays or transparencies can be very helpful to make reading much more comfortable. Some of the most popular colors are blue or gray. Colored reading transparencies make reading easier for just about everyone, not only those children with glare sensitivity. Another simple home remedy is to add essential fatty acids to a child’s diet. The retina of the eye contains rods and cones. The rods, which control light reactions, are made of stacks of fluid-filled membranes. These membranes are made up of oils, particularly the long chain fatty acid found in fish oils. I have received many reports from parents reporting the improvement in their child’s vision after they began supplementing with good fish oil.
Don’t despair. Your child or student will become a recreational reader once the reason has been found for his or her avoidance of reading. If we observe our children closely we find that they are always giving us the reason for the problem they are having.
The information in this article should not be construed as a diagnosis or medical advice. Please consult your physician for any medical condition and before adding supplements or changing a child’s diet.