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Bad Visual Habits

Bad habits2

Although a therapist will probably work on building your child's eye tracking skills during vision therapy, that doesn’t mean that your child will automatically adopt proper eye movements when reading to you at home. He/she might be so used to either bobbing or moving the head side to side, that he/she reverts to tracking print with head movements instead of eye movements alone, simply out of habit.

Proper eye tracking when reading can both improve fluency and cut down on careless mistakesThe result will be choppy and inaccurate reading. It is far less efficient to track print with your head than with your eyes. This is because our neck muscles cannot move nearly as fast and accurate as our eyes. It is also likely that a child using the head to track will read carelessly. That is, the child will either miss the common little words like a and the or will substitute another word instead, as the child has jumped across the word when moving his/her head.

Teachers may recommend your child to use the index finger to guide them when reading to avoid loosing place. This is acceptable in new readers in grade 1 and 2, or maybe necessary for children with a severe eye tracking deficit. However, this can result in a bad habit. Using a finger to guide prevents one's ability to scan ahead. Furthermore, you are encouraging the finger to guide the eyes, known as bottom-top processing. This is not as efficient as top-down processing where the eyes and brain direct body movements. Eye-hand coordination is much more efficient than hand-eye coordination. 

The "Cure" for the Bad Habit

Sit across from your child at a table as he/she reads aloud and watch the eyes and head. The head should be steady and unmoving as the eyes move across each line of print. If this is what is happening, great. However, if you see the head moving slowly, or bobbing around, then reach across and put your hand on the top of the child's head and steady it.  Alternatively, put a bean bag on the head and have the child make sure that it does not fall off while reading a few lines of print. To reduce reliance on using a finger to guide reading, one can use a transparent coloured ruler to help isolate small sections of the text. 

After a short period of adaptation, the child should start reading more fluently and more accurately, assuming of course the child is the reading material that he/she is capable of reading. Now, this so-called cure might have your child suddenly reading more smoothly, but it won’t teach phonics, nor will it correct other vision problems such as eye focusing or eye teaming deficits. Both the vision issues and the phonics instruction should be well underway.

Colour Tinted Ruler
Examples of colour tinted rulers.


While some vision therapy exercises are specifically designed to build eye tracking skill for reading, that doesn’t mean your child will dump previous habits and begin reading in a more efficient manner. Holding the head steady, not replying on finger guiding, and making clear to the child that doing so improves fluency, is one way to get the child to more quickly shift to a new, better, method of tracking print. Note, however, that if your child has poor eye tracking ability, holding the head might only frustrate him/her further. This tip is about changing a bad habit, not building eye tracking skill. 

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