This is a very general term for a multitude of visual problems. What does it entail? Individuals who have problems with tracking (ocularmotor dysfunctions) can have a variety of symptoms that may be mistaken for other problems like Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Dyslexia, reading disorders, etc.
What symptoms might one expect with ocularmotor dysfunctions? There are many, but here is a list of some of the most common signs:
- Skipping lines or words while reading
- Reading words backwards or substituting different letters in words
- Using a finger as a bookmark to keep ones place or losing your place constantly
- Moving your head across the page like a typewriter instead of moving your eyes
- Short attention span or discomfort while performing near centered tasks (e.g. reading, computer, etc.)
- Rubs eyes after short periods of close work
- Covers an eye, or turns head excessively while working at close range
- Copying from the board incorrectly
So what is tracking and fixation?
Tracking is the ability to follow an object of regard smoothly and accurately with the eyes while fixation can be both the ability of the eyes to look at a spot and hold that spot in tandem as well as the ability to quickly and accurately move the eyes from one location to another, commonly referred to as a saccade.
Why is that Important?
A significant amount of people have tracking problems that interfere with both learning and work. This takes the form of lowered productivity, lower comprehension, fatigue and classroom disruptions. Some unpublished studies have shown interesting results that I hope someday will be replicated and published. One performed by G.N. Getman, OD, who worked at the Gessell Institute of Child Development for a period of time indicated that in a district wide school screening up to 27% of children listed as being in the bottom third of their class by their teachers failed the vision screening which included tracking skills, focusing skills, and visual acuity(seeing). Even children listed in the upper third of the class failed the screening at a rate of approximately 3 %. Those numbers are astonishing.
When we read our eyes do not look at each word individually. They actually jump from one group of words to the next, this is called a saccade and the place they stop at is the fixation. If your saccade and fixation capabilities are weak then the eyes will skip words, jump to the next or previous line of print, or actually track backwards ( regression).
What Can Be Done?
Vision therapy is the best avenue to correct tracking problems with a very high success rate. In general, glasses do a poor job but there are special circumstances when glasses will help. Sometimes the vision therapy can be done on a home basis but most of the time in office treatment with a vision therapy specialist is needed to program the appropriate activities which typically increases the success rate.
Some people have asked if the individual can outgrow the problem. My clinical experience tells me that if the individual has not outgrown it by eight years old they typically will have the problem until treated. Human beings are very adaptable and the person will try to find other avenues to succeed or compensate for the tracing problem. There does not appear to be an age limit on when treatment can be performed as we have had success at all ages of life.