When Traditional Reading Methods Don’t Work

Watching a child struggle to read can be heart-breaking; especially when they have been participating in reading tutorial for months. Children who do not make significant gains in reading fluency or who have labored reading are likely suffering from undiagnosed vision processing problems. These vision processing problems extend beyond just seeing the print clearly (although uncorrected eyesight should always be a consideration in poor readers). Now granted, reading well requires good auditory and visual skill; many reading improvement programs are geared toward auditory aspects and not toward visual aspects. In fact, it is nearly certain, if your child comprehends well when read to but not when reading for themselves, they have a vision problem. Consequently, those readers who are not advancing quickly with traditional methods should be evaluated for some “hidden” visual causes of reading problems described below.

When having your child evaluated for reading problems, it important to keep in mind that all eye exams are not the same and not all eye doctors evaluate reading problems. During a standard eye exam, an eye doctor will do tests related to eye health, visual clarity, and general visual performance. What is not part of a standard eye exam is testing for visual stamina and visual processing. Even if a person can see clearly; can they see clearly all the time, can they see without strain or fatigue, and how long can they last. Individuals who have weak eye muscles for focusing and tracking will have low stamina for prolonged reading activity. This can be compared to someone with weak arms; they cannot carry heavy packages for a long time. Also, a person with weaker arms will become shaky before someone with stronger arms. When eyes get shaky it causes tracking errors and reading problems. Evidence of this would be exhibited as slow reading, reading choppy, losing place, reading in short spurts, making reading errors (omissions, additions, and substitutions), word/letter reversals, poor comprehension, and avoidance of reading.

Other factors contributing to reading problems are slow recognition of words, poor word decoding, and crowding effects, all of which are classified as visual processing problems. With regard to immediate recognition of words or groups of words, some individuals have slower intake of information than others and will linger on the words or segment the words. This can be measured and enhanced. Other individuals will have difficulty because they don’t recognize key parts of words even if they know their sounds and know phonetics. Their eyes don’t know how to properly identify and group letter sequences causing them to misread or mispronounce the word(s). Also, these individual also tend to change sounds when they see the same letter sequences in a different word. One more unusual but common problem is known as the crowding effect. In this situation, the reader’s eyes are confused or over whelmed with too much information on the page. Readers who suffer from this will read much better when given fewer words at a time. Special computer generated reading programs are used to test and treat this disorder.

Article by Dr. David Bloch, OD