Do you get really baffled when your child hops over words in the sentence they are reading, or adds in endings that aren’t there, misses out bits of words that are there, skips down a line without realising it…….
You are not alone! But you will be pleased to hear there is a fairly simple explanation as to why this happens and it is all to do with eye movements and attention. It is that simple. When a child (or anyone for that matter) reads, their eyes fix on a point and then their attention holds it there, enabling their eyes to read the words to the right of that fixed point. Once their vision has got to the point when they can’t read any more words then their eyes move and fix on the next point, their attention holds it there and they read the next few words.
Let’s break this down and consider eye movements first. Some dyslexic children have trouble with controlling their eye muscles which mean that they have problems with getting their eyes to fix on a point or their eyes may ‘jump’ rather than move smoothly from left to right, which is the direction we read in ( they will also ‘jump’ from right to left). If you want to check whether this is an issue for your child then you will need to visit a good ophthalmic optician who will not only check their 20/20 vision but also how their eyes are working. Try and get a recommendation for this in your own area (I know a few places in Essex) and be aware that this is not always available on the NHS.
For some children, even with eye muscles working well, the words may be blurry or they may move on the page because they are particularly sensitive to the contrast between the black print and the white paper. This is known as visual stress ( or Irlen Syndrome) and is where coloured overlays can help. You must check this because when a child has visual stress, they think this is how printing looks to everyone and therefore they don't know it is different.
So, once you have considered the two aspects above, next consider the visual attention of your child. Going back to the process described in the first paragraph, their eyes fix on a point and then their attention holds it on that point and decides which letters they need to be looking at to read the word, meaning that they have to stop looking at other letters on the page. If your child has poor visual attention then they won't be able to decide which letters they should be looking at , leading to a confusing array of letters to choose from to read each word. This poor visual attention may also mean that they will do better with a clear printed font such as Ariel and with words being spaced out more than usual to prevent ‘visual crowding’.
You can help your child improve their visual attention by doing some fun things at home such as the ‘Where’s Wally?’ books, doing puzzles and word searches ( set at appropriate levels).
These visual aspects to reading can be overlooked but they are a key part for a child to be able to read fluently.
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