EYE Can Do It: The Importance of Oculomotor Skills.
One of the most important, yet forgotten, skills needed for students in the classroom is vision. Oftentimes we think of the importance of vision when playing sports, driving, or going for a walk. However, having reliable vision in the classroom is a key component to success. Vision is a complex topic and consists of various moving parts.
Visual acuity is the sharpness or clarity of an individual’s vision. Visual acuity is measured at an eye doctor’s office and is often corrected by glasses or contact lenses. You may notice your child or student having poor visual acuity if you hear complaints such as “the letters on the white board are blurry.”
Oculomotor skills are the movements and control of eye muscles. These skills can be further defined as “tracking.” Tracking skills allow us to follow words while reading, copying sentences from a white board to our paper, and producing legible handwriting. In school, if a child cannot track from word to word smoothly, accurately, and efficiently, reading suffers and comprehension drops. Reliable signs of tracking problems in school include frequent loss of place, skipping, and/or omitting entire lines while reading. Additional signs can include using a finger to follow print, moving the head rather than just the eyes, and poor comprehension during reading activities.
A simple screening to look at your child or student’s oculomotor skills include moving a pencil, marker, or object in various directions. Instruct the child to move their EYES only and to keep their head still. Move the object in the direction of an X, +, and H. If you notice that the child has difficulty following the object with their eyes, try to verbally prompt them, and begin the screening again. If the child continues to have difficulty following the object, they may have poor oculomotor skills.
In order to strengthen oculomotor skills, it is important to focus on basic eye movements. There are three basic types of eye movements:
- Fixations: ability to hold eyes steady without moving off target
- Saccades: the ability of our eyes to make accurate jumps as we change targets
- Pursuits: the ability of our eyes to follow a moving target
Below are two reliable sources that include exercises to strengthen oculomotor skills. Other exercises include continuing to use the screening technique, going for walks with the child and pointing out various moving objects (birds, cars, people, etc.), and/or playing games that include eye movements.
Next time you notice poor handwriting or reading skills with your student or child, be sure to check their oculomotor skills. All it takes is a simple screening to put them onto the road to success!
Brittany Krause OTR/L