Do Eye Exercises Work?

In America, people debate whether eye exercises really help with children’s tracking problems or whether surgery (on a child’s eye muscles) is the best answer.

Perhaps (I cynically reflect) this is because American doctors are very highly paid when they undertake delicate surgery, which is normally paid for by medical insurance.

The National Health service does not recommend surgery for ‘simple’ tracking problems, where other medical disorders are not evident.

Specialists in orthoptics can prescribe eye exercises which probably need to be practised for more than 10 minutes per day over a period of six or more months before significant benefit is obvious.

Adult supervision and a lot of gentle persistence is necessary because youngsters of 6-10 years are unlikely to be able to persist with these exercises on their own.

It is also very important that they are done accurately, without short-cuts or carelessness. Otherwise they won’t work.

What type of eye exercises are used to help with tracking problems and how do the benefits result?

I only have significant experience of eye exercises which are designed to help reading problems. There are other exercises which work generally on the eyes but my experience is with a child apparently of normal or above normal intelligence and old enough to be able to read and familiar with words,.

He (or she) can read – why does he or she find it difficult, tedious and stressful. Why does he or she struggle with words to such an extent?

The exercises for this sort of child are designed to train the eyes to move across the page more smoothly. Perhaps words (short, simple words) would be arranged like this:

cat dog mat sat fat the dog sat mat the the cat

or perhaps like this:

cat ………………………………………………. dog

mat ……………………………………………… the

so that the child needed to swing his or her eyes accurately across a large space to find and locate the appropriate word on the other side of the page.

On other sheets, arrows are used; black arrows bigger than a capital letter which point left or right, up or down. Can the child read smoothly across the line of arrows calling the direction of each accurately? How fast can the child do this?

Initially, an eight year old with major tracking problems could not get through a whole A4 sheet of exercises like these without showing signs of visual stress (eyes watering, rubbing eyes, general discomfort, probable complaints.)

But the child was assessed by the specialist each month. And after each month, practising every day including Saturday and Sunday, it was obvious that the child was beginning to read the exercise sheets more fluently and without so much distress.

Sometimes it was helpful to monitor the child’s progress by timing each sheet of exercises so that he could see that he was improving (and so could I.)

Briefly – a lot of time, a great deal of patience and dedication was necessary; a lot of persistence because good results are slow to emerge and even slower to translate into what is required, better reading out loud.

After six months, the child’s ability to conquer the eye exercises was considerably improved. But his reading out loud was still very tentative. A sentence would go swimmingly (when he was not tired) and then another sentence would go well and I would hold my breath, hoping that a third sentence would be OK as well.

But his eyes would skip or he would find himself suddenly flummoxed by what seemed to be an unfamiliar word and he would grind to a halt, completely failing to translate the squiggles on the page in front of him into a complete word and then pronounce that word out loud.

Reading out loud is not an easy thing to do or a process which is anything but demanding.

These three stages, scanning accurately, processing the scanned information, then persuading yourself how to pronounce a word are a real struggle for any child with difficulties in any of these three areas.

And the problems do not go away soon or suddenly. There is no ‘cure’.

Just yesterday, after almost exactly sixteen months of working almost every day with this same youngster, he came across the word ‘computer’ in a book by Darren Shan (his favourite current author – as bloodthirsty as any putative pirate could require and all small boys want to be pirates).

He stalled completely. Despite being a computer nut, despite the number of times he has previously seen this word, when reading with me and elsewhere, he could not make sense of it.

I had to prompt him because he must not fail now, I must always make sure he succeeds (if he is doing his best) – he has had enough failure to last him a lifetime.

That sort of incident reminds one, if reminder were needed, how crippling, how dispiriting, how humiliating, reading problems can be.

Towards the beginning of his autobiography, Sir Jackie Stewart recalls the horrible moment when he (a severely dyslexic youngster at a time when dyslexia was not understood or recognized) was asked to read out loud in class.

He was nine years old and his problem had not been diagnosed or treated. Everyone just assumed he was stupid.

He failed completely, on that occasion, and his classmates laughed at him.

It marked him for life. He still resents it, after all his success.

Please help your child, any child, who may have similar problems not to get hurt so badly and never laugh or tease or fail to help when children struggle with words.

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