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Posted on 06-13-2014
I started out as a child. My mother says I learned to read at a very early age. Before too long I became a child who simply did not like to read. Once I moved from the learning-to-read stage to the reading-to-learn stage, my relationship with the printed word began to deteriorate. There was no pleasure in reading to obtain information or even just for the enjoyment of engaging in a story. I chose to avoid reading as much as possible. It turned out that I had undetected visual issues that were interfering with my ability to read, beginning at a very early age.
There’s an important issue here. Many, maybe even most, children are not really ready to read before the age of eight. Our brains (we) haven’t reached a degree of visual/neurological development appropriate for learning to read. Reading is not something our visual systems were biologically designed to do. The human visual system is about action and 3-D. The primary purpose of the visual process is to direct action. There is very little action involved in reading and there is no 3-D in a flat surface - the same holds true for computers and other similar devices.
Some children are able to display what appears to be a reasonably good ability to say the words on the page accurately and with a decent fluency. While this may seem like an unquestionably good thing, there may be more to it than meets the eye. And reading aloud is different than reading silently. Most parents have no other way to gauge a child’s reading ability other than listening to the child reading aloud. The thing is, it’s entirely possible that the young child who reads aloud fairly well might be reading the very same way when reading silently. By that I mean that they are essentially reading aloud to themselves, just without making any sound; they are doing what is called sub-vocalizing. Sub-vocalizing is reading to yourself as though you were an outside observer because you need the support of your ‘voice’ (speech) and your ‘hearing’ (auditory) to get information out of the printed word.
Optimal reading however occurs when your simply see the words on the page and make a picture in your head. This is more like a one-step process. See the words and obtain the meaning visually. Reading silently to yourself is more like a three-step process: see the words, say and hear the words, then get the message. This is quite inefficient. And slow. This is described as reading with a verbal/auditory style, rather than a visual style. Many children are not neurologically prepared to read with a visual style before the age of eight. It might be okay early on as long as you are able to make the transition to the visual level when the time comes.
Learning-to-read should be differentiated from reading-to-learn. The former is the stage when we are learning the mechanics of the task; the latter assumes the former has occurred to an appropriate degree. thereby enabling us to basically be on auto-pilot so that we might use most of our energy to derive meaning from what we are reading. It is not easy to read for meaning when you do not have efficient eye movements, eye teaming and/or focusing skills. Many children do not develop these abilities without the help of vision therapy.
Aristotle said- "The mind never thinks without a picture." Behavioral optometrists believe that the best way to read is for the mind to make a picture of what the symbols on the page represent. Behavioral optometrists have much to offer those who struggle with this process.
Knowing what I know now about the visual process, and looking back on my relationship with reading throughout my childhood, I have come to the conclusion that most children who don’t enjoy reading feel this way because they have an underlying, unrecognized visual development issue. Children are smart; they are naturally curious and eager to learn. So much of our learning involves our visual process. There are admittedly many possible obstacles to optimizing learning potential, but one of the most consistently devastating and simultaneously one of the most amenable to treatment is visual development. Well developed eye movements, eye teaming and focusing are key ingredients for successful, effortless reading. Vision therapy has many decades of successfully treating deficits in visual development and enabling those who struggle with reading to overcome their challenges. Once this is done it lasts a lifetime. That is why we say, optometrists change lives.
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