Thursday, February 02, 2006

Getting Your Eyes Checked

In the last month, I’ve had two appointments with a specialized "developmental optometrist.” The optometrist pointed out something I have never realized before: static eye exams may ignore some really debilitating eye problems. If your son or daughter is having difficulty with reading, it may not be a problem associated with his or her ability to see clearly (the kinds of measurements that show up on standard phoropter tests (the phoropter is the machine eye doctors set in front of you and flip lenses around and say, "Is this better, or is this?")). It may have everything to do with eye coordination and eye-brain connections--what we may call "perceptual ability."

Let me tell you my story and then I'd like to hear yours.


For years I've known "something" is "wrong" with my eyes. I could never define exactly what bothered (or bothers) me. However, I knew, from my internal sense about these things, that I read very slowly. Not as slowly as some. But I have always sensed I read way more slowly than I'd prefer. And no matter what techniques I try to use to raise my speed, my comprehension always tends to fall rapidly. I *have* to read slowly or I can't understand what I'm reading.

Something else that "SHOULD" have been a clue, but I never paid attention to: for years I've known that I can't read for more than 15 or 20 minutes at a time before I want to fall asleep. I don't mean merely feeling tired. I mean, reading just about literally "knocks me out." I'd fall asleep in mid-sentence when reading to our kids "way back when"--when we used to read together as a family.

When I went to see the developmental optometrist, we talked for a while about the kinds of symptoms I was experiencing. He asked about headaches when I read, about seeing double, about symptoms typical of dyslexia, ADD, ADHD, and other such behavioral and/or perceptual issues.

I could not say anything about these other areas. All I knew is the two symptoms I mentioned above.

After giving me a standard eye exam, he hooked me up to a VisaGraph, which tracked my eye movements as I read . . . each eye INDIVIDUALLY. The VisaGraph tests--we did two of them--were most enlightening.

Here's what they told us: my left eye fixated (stopped to focus on a portion of text) more times than my right eye fixated.

And I went back to re-read something I’d already read (called a reversion) more times with my left eye than my right.

Eyes Not Tracking Correctly

You may wonder: "How could your LEFT eye fixate more times than the right? And how could the left eye revert more times than the right?"

Well, in a graphical printout of my eye movements, the left eye always moved where it needed to go in order to see whatever it was I needed to see. Every now and then, however, my right eye would simply "go blind." It would quit "looking" . . . or seeing. The graph of the left would show distinct and measured movements; the right eye would simply stop moving, or move far less than the left eye. . . .

Rather eerie to see!

But the upshot of all of this: my eyes, though functioning okay ON THEIR OWN or when asked to look at a static object, do not work well TOGETHER.


I want to tell "the rest of the story," but I'm under some tremendous time pressure. I would also like to hear some "war stories" from my readers so, together, we may be able to give better recommendations and "advice" to others whose children may be struggling--or who may find that they themselves may be struggling with their eyes.

So: Have you become aware of these kinds of visual difficulties that show up in "real-life" situations but that your regular optometrist seems to miss? What have you done about it? What have you found? What "solutions" have you discovered?

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