Our eyes do a number of important jobs. We see our world through a lens that is built into our eyes. This lens actually changes shape so that we can focus on what we are seeing from any given distance.
- If we can’t focus well, we may experience unstable vision including blurring, difficulty shifting focus from one distance to another, pain in or around the eyes, headaches, poor concentration, distractibility, fatigue or distance blur after performing close-up tasks.
Our brains assist our eyes by controlling their movements. One aspect of this control is called ocular motility, or eye movement control. We have to be able to move our eyes together.
- An inability to perform accurate and effective eye movement patterns results in difficulty moving the eyes smoothly and accurately from object to object, including these words that you are reading! It may also be difficult to track moving objects. This can cause loss of place, repetition and or omission of words or lines of print while reading, poor visual attention and distractibility, changing the positions of words when reading or copying, fatigue, motion sickness, and inaccurate eye-hand coordination.
Another task for our brain is to align our eyes accurately on an object and combine the visual images from each eye into a single, in-depth perception. This skill is called binocularity and should be a comfortable, not a tiresome act.
- Problems with binocularity can include double or blurry vision, light sensitivity, headache, dizziness, motion sickness, fatigue, poor depth perception, discomfort around the eyes, poor eye-hand coordination and/or decreased concentration and distractibility.
Our brains do a number of other amazing things that involve our vision:
- Visual discrimination is the ability to tell differences and similarities between objects.
- Visual figure-ground is the ability to pick out an object from its background.
- Visual closure is the ability to identify incomplete figures when only fragments are visible.
- Visual Form Constancy is knowing what an object is even if it is rotated, flipped over, etc. As regards reading, problems in this area may cause a child to have to relearn words every time they are presented in another form, color, size or context.
- Visual Memory is the ability to recall the main features of a form. Difficulties in this area might cause a child to have trouble learning the alphabet or sight words (words unable to be sounded out, for example “would”).
- Visual Spatial Relationships, Visual Sequential Memory, Visual Speed, Visual Perceptual Speed, Visual-Auditory Integration, Visual-motor Integration, Visual Conservation Logic are more examples of the brain, eyes and body working together.
According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), individuals of any age with problems in the above areas can be helped withvision therapy. The AOA states:
“Learning to read and reading for information requires efficient visual abilities. The eyes must team precisely, focus clearly, and track quickly and accurately across the page. These processes must be coordinated with the perceptual and memory aspects of vision, which in turn must combine with linguistic (language) processing for comprehension. To provide reliable information, this must occur with precise timing.”
Children and adults with problems in any of these areas must divide their time between the task and the various sub-skills involved in reading. Any or all of the symptoms listed above can occur as a result.
Vision therapy is prescribed after extensive testing and evaluation by an Optometric Physician. The therapy itself involves sequences of activities individually prescribed and monitored by the doctor to develop efficient visual skills and processing. Computer programs, lenses, prisms, filters, occluders and other specialized instruments are used, often in the doctor’s office.
Vision therapists will often suggest that a student use a lap desk to stabilize material at the appropriate working distance from their eyes. The 20-degree tilt provided by the lap desk improves postural control of the entire body and aligns the eyes with the material more easily. This makes focusing, eye movements and eye teaming more comfortable and efficient. (See the article Ergonomics and the Use of Lap Desks.)
Lap desks are portable and easily go wherever the child goes to work, play, or study - whether on the floor, on a bed or couch, or while traveling in the family car. Creating a stable visual reading environment with the help of a lap desk can be an excellent motivator for kids who have trouble with concentration, comprehension or settling down to homework or hobbies. And it's fun to use!
NOTE: Thank you to Carol Marusich, Optometric Physician and Board Certified in vision therapy for her input on this article. Dr. Marusich works in Eugene, Oregon, and can be reached at LifeTime Eye Care