You’ve read to your child since he was a baby, instilling a love for reading. You taught him his letter sounds in kindergarten and phonics later. He knows how to read, but consistently resists it. You’ve purchased books with inviting covers that literally “ooze” excitement. They sit in the same place every day, unopened by anyone but you. You love reading, you want him to love reading, but you can’t make him love it. What do you do?
Despite the best efforts of many parents and teachers, many children never become recreational readers because they have a visual processing problem that makes reading more work than they desire, even though they love the information they receive from books.
Symptoms of Stress in the Visual System
1. Reading reversals (“was” for “saw,” “on” for “no”)
2. Skipping of words or lines
3. Rubbing of eyes after reading
4. Oral reading that is smooth at the beginning of the page, but then becomes more labored
5. Mispronounces simple words (like “in,” “of,” “to”)
6. Prefers large-print books
If your child exhibits some of these symptoms, it would be worthwhile to investigate further to determine the depth of this problem.
Check your child’s eye dominance. Give him an empty tube and ask him to “sight” a distant object, or have him take a picture with a camera. Observe which eye he sights with. If your child is left-eye dominant, we have a clue. The Japanese read their characters from top to bottom; in this country we read from left to right. To do this efficiently, we use our right eye to lead in reading. A left-eye-dominant child begins the reading process using his non-dominant eye, but switches to his dominant eye when reading further and becoming tired. This is when he tends to skip words or lines, or even reverse smaller words such as “of” for “to.” We would not consider changing a child’s eye dominance, but we can make the visual process more efficient through some simple exercises that encourage both eyes to work together without stress.
Watch how your child tracks his eyes from left to right. There are five parts to reading, and the most basic is the mechanics of the eyes tracking smoothly from left to right. Take an interesting target and stand about 18 inches in front of your child. Move the target slowly from left to right about eight times, having him follow it with his eyes. This is the same movement his eyes need to make when reading. Have him hold his head relatively still without being stiff. Watch to see if your child shows signs of visual stress such as eyes shifting off the target, his eyes getting wider as he moves them, his eyes watering, and rubbing his eyes when finished.
If you see signs of visual stress, several things you can do at home will help alleviate it. An exercise that promotes eye-teaming abilities is called the “eye eight” exercise. Simply have the child hold his thumb out in front of him while he moves his arm in the formation of an eight lying on its side. The movement starts at the midline (at the shirt buttons) 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, elbow extended, and repeat the exercise, this time moving the neck and head also.
The child has to work harder at reading because the eye-tracking process has not become “automatic.” The right-brain hemisphere is responsible for the automatic movement of the eyes, while the left hemisphere is responsible for the contents. To further encourage the eye-tracking process, your child could perform the eye-eight exercise, then look upper right while doing the “cross crawl” exercise (touching a hand to the opposite knee). Do this for about a minute. This activates the right (automatic) hemisphere for the process of eye tracking, greatly increasing the effect of the exercise. This “re-patterning” was put together by a special education therapist about 15 years ago. It is part of brain integration therapy and has proven extremely effective for children with any information-processing problem.
Another way to improve your child’s eye teaming would be through vision training exercises from a developmental optometrist. Whichever method you use, you should see improved eye tracking and reduced eye fatigue.
Also check your child for “glare sensitivity.” Does your child take his reading assignment to a part of the room with less light than other areas? Many times these children avoid bright lights because they experience glare. This is called “scotopic sensitivity.” These children also squint from bright light outside and are bothered by the glare of car headlights at night.
Two things help reduce the impact of this problem. Colored overlays, or transparencies, can help make reading more comfortable. Blue and green are popular colors. Colored transparencies make reading easier for just about everyone, not only children with glare sensitivity. Another simple home remedy is to add essential fatty acids to a child’s diet. The retina in the eye contains rods and cones. The rods, which control light reactions, are made of stacks of fluid-filled membranes made up of oils, particularly the long-chain fatty acids found in fish oils. Many parents have reported improvement in their child’s vision after beginning good fish-oil supplements.
We have covered visual processing problems, but children may also experience auditory processing problems, often manifested through being more than one year behind in reading. To learn some characteristics and corrections, visit www.hslda.org/strugglinglearner.
If your child can read on grade level but does not want to read recreationally, he/she might be experiencing visual stress that inhibits wanting to read for long periods. A child who has to use too much energy to remain focused and attentive often finds that reading is “not fun.” The Web site mentioned earlier gives checklists to find out if focusing and attentions issues are keeping your child from spending time reading, even when reading on grade level. Parents often find they can dramatically impact their child’s ability to sustain attention through targeted nutritional interventions and a change in diet.
Don’t despair. Your child will become a recreational reader once you find the reason why he avoids reading. If we observe our children closely, we find they always give us the reason for their problems, and there are many ways to eliminate them. God is faithful to answer our prayers.
Written by: Dianne Craft
She spoke at the 2010 Convention. She is the president of Child Diagnostics in Littleton, Colo., has a master’s degree in special education and is a certified natural health professional. For more information, visit www.diannecraft.org.