Saccades are eye movements from one object of regard to another.  These “jump” eye movements allow us to fixate objects with the fovea, which is the part of the retina that we use to discriminate details and determine, “what is this.” Reading across a line of printed words requires a series of saccades and fixations. First we make a saccades to bring our eyes to the first word in the sentence, then we fixate to allow our brains to process what we are seeing, then we make another saccade to a point a little further along in the sentence and once again fixate to allow our brains to process the visual information.  Saccade-fixate-saccade-fixate.  This pattern continues for as long as it takes to complete the reading .  But saccades aren’t only about reading.  They are the basis for using vision in everyday life.  Every time we want to “look” at something, we have to make a saccade to bring that something onto our fovea.  Saccade-fixate-saccade-fixate.  This happy dance continues all day long.  On average, we make 100,000 saccades per day.

What if you had difficulty with saccadic eye movements?  What if it took you a little longer to make that saccade?  Or you were inaccurate and your eyes landed in the wrong place? Or this put additional stress on your binocular system because you had difficulty coordinating the eyes during saccades?  And now imagine making these errors 100,000 times a day.  The happy dance is no longer very happy.  Welcome to the world of the learning disabled child.

At the annual meeting of COVD, Dr. Zoi Kapoula presented a distillation of her years of work studying saccadic eye movements.  This included the evaluation of the saccadic eye movements of a group of dyslexic children during “real text reading;” recording eye movements as their eyes moved in a sequence of fixations across the text.  The dyslexic children made more saccades, more regressions (moving their eyes backward along the line of text instead of forward), and it took them longer.  In addition, they had more difficulty keeping their eyes properly aligned during the reading task.  This resulted in greater stress on their binocular systems in an attempt to prevent the words from going double.  Dr. Kapoula concluded that these inefficiencies might complicate letter or word recognition processes and “supports the suggestion that besides impaired phonological processes, a visual/oculomotor deficit exists in dyslexics that might perturb the fusional process. ”  That’s the double whammy.  Poor eye movements not only make it difficult to read, but make it more difficult to maintain binocular vision while reading which also makes it hard to read.  It’s the proverbial downward spiral.

But there is hope.  Research has shown that vision therapy can be effective at improving both eye movement and binocular skills.  These improvements in visual skills can translate to better academic performance.  It’s time to get your child’s visual “happy dance” back on track.

Percy has great dance moves and eye moves!