Parents and doctors may label a child’s learning or attention difficulties as ADD/ADHD. However, you might be surprised to learn that poor control of eye movements can cause similar symptoms.
If you’re like most people, you rarely think about your eye movements. But if your eyes don’t move as precisely, accurately and efficiently as they should, it could affect you in several ways, including your reading ability and sports performance.
Moreover, poor eye movements often indicate a larger issue with a person’s visual system. Often patients who have difficulty with eye movements also have difficulty with eye teaming (convergence and divergence) and focusing (accommodation).
If you notice your child expressing any warning signs of poor eye movements, it’s important to schedule a functional vision test so a developmental optometrist can determine the entire scope of the problem.
Fortunately, there are some simple observations you can make to identify poor eye movements that could be affecting your child’s everyday life.
Before we discuss the signs and symptoms to look for, let’s look at the two primary categories of eye movements.
Two Key Visual Skills Necessary for Quality Eye Movements
* Saccades - This visual skill involves a series of jerk-like eye movements, which allow us to transition our visual focus from one object to another. When watching a tennis match, for example, saccadic movement lets you transition your attention from one player to their opponent on the opposite end of the court.
* Pursuits - This visual skill, commonly referred to as tracking, allows your eyes to follow an object moving through space. Sticking to our tennis example, pursuits would let you track the ball when it’s hit from one player to their opponent.
How Poor Eye Movements Can Affect Everyday Life
We want to be clear that poor eye movements don’t affect every child in the same way. For some, these visual skill issues can be extremely debilitating. However, other children may compensate in ways that allow normal functionality despite their poor eye movements.
Children with poor eye movements often struggle in the following areas:
1. Sports - Most sports require a person to use both pursuits and saccades. If a child struggles with pursuits, they may have a hard time tracking a ball in a field of play. If they have poor saccadic movements, they may struggle to transition their vision from one teammate to another.
2. Reading - Contrary to popular belief, you don’t track words when reading. Your eyes actually use saccades, focusing on one or several words at a time, which your brain absorbs before you transition to the next word or set of words.
While poor saccades increases your likelihood of experiencing reading difficulties, it’s not absolute. Speed readers, for instance, can absorb a quarter of a page or more at a time. Even if they lacked quality saccadic movement, they’d still absorb a considerable amount of information per fixation.
3. Eye contact - Even more basic than saccades or pursuits is the ability to fix your gaze on an object. Some people’s control of eye movements is so poor that they struggle to even maintain eye contact.
Observations You Can Make to Identify Poor Eye Movements
The following is a list of signs and symptoms of poor eye movements taken from the College of Optometrists in Vision Development’s fact sheet on eye movement dysfunction:
-Difficulty visually tracking and/or following objects
-Inaccurate hand-eye coordination
-Inconsistent visual attention/concentration or distractibility while performing visually demanding tasks
-Transposition when copying from one source document to another
-Loss of place, repetition and/or omission of words and/or lines of print when reading
-Need to utilize a marker to avoid loss of place
If you notice any or all of these symptoms in yourself or your child, schedule a functional vision test to determine if the issue could be a vision problem.
How Developmental Optometrists Correct Poor Eye Movements
Eye movements are a good entry point to assess a person’s entire visual system. Control of eye movements is the foundation upon which other visual skills such as eye teaming and eye focusing are built.
When a problem with eye movements is detected in a functional vision exam, a developmental optometrist may use any or all of the following treatments:
* Vision Therapy - Therapy exercises in our office and at home is the primary treatment we use to improve a person’s eye movements.
* Lenses - In some cases, therapeutic prescription lenses can immediately improve a person’s eye movements. This is often true when a person over-concentrates on background or peripheral objects, in which case lenses can refine their focus.
* Syntonics - This method uses colored lights to adjust certain aspects of a person’s eye movements, and in some cases, can lead to significant changes in as little as a week.
If your child is struggling to learn or pay attention, watch for signs and symptoms of difficulties with eye movements. If you suspect difficulty, schedule a functional vision test to find the root cause of the problem.