Originally Sent: 5/9/2013
May 9, 2013
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A Simple Way
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The Role of our Eyes in Reading
We usually don’t think of it, but our eyes have many responsibilities when reading. Two of the most important roles they play are: 1) working together as a team moving effortlessly from left to right as they gather in words and sentences; and 2) filtering out the white paper into the reading “background” while attending to the black letters on the foreground of the paper.
We often notice that a child is suffering from eye teaming, tracking or convergence issues when reading, but we don’t realize that some of his or her reading dysfluencies could be the result of a light filtering dysfunction when reading from white paper. These kids often struggle to read small words or get fatigued after reading just a short while.
Colored Reading Transparencies
Because of a hypersensitive reaction to some wavelengths of light, when these struggling readers look at black type on white paper, their eyes react to the white glare of the paper. This may cause them to experience eyestrain, fatigue, or headaches while reading.
Many times when a darker colored transparency is placed over the reading page, such as blue, green or blue/green, it seems to “even the playing field.” With this decreased discrepancy between the type and the background, the visual system is less stressed. The result is often that their eyes become visibly relaxed while reading.
There is an interesting science behind this light reflection issue. The retina at the back of the eye is a light-sensitive layer which consists of rod cells and cone cells. Rod cells are for light and dark adaptation, and they help us with our peripheral vision … seeing the “whole.” The cone cells are for detailed vision, or acuity. Further study has revealed that the retina of the eye contains particularly large amounts of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) in the rod cells.
Studies on Fish Oil for the Eyes
Two doctors, Dr. Bazan and Dr. Stordy, have paid particular attention to the function of DHA in the retina of the eye. Dr. Bazan found that the body’s highest concentration of DHA, a fatty acid found mainly in fish, is in the retina of the eye. Dr. Bazan found that the concentrations of DHA to be as high as 65%. His studies show that the DHA in the retina allows the cells to transmit light signals very quickly, a process that needs to occur to make reading stress free.
Dr. Stordy says, “My research on young adults with reading issues showed that dyslexics and children with other reading issues often have poor dark adaptation, which is a function of the DHA-rich rod cells of the retina. However, supplementation with a high-DHA fish oil restored dark adaptation to normal. The rod cells are the photoreceptors for the magnocellular pathway, which has been shown to be defective in dyslexia. Thus, when working with these struggling students, I always like to suggest the addition of protocol amounts of DHA, so that we can make permanent difference in their reading and eye fluency ability.”
What I Did
I loved working with struggling readers and kids with dyslexia when I worked in the resource reading room in school, after I had finished homeschooling my son. To help them get on grade level with reading, and especially to get rid of the various visual distortions they were experiencing while reading, I used two steps: compensation and correction.
For my classroom use I ordered colored reading transparencies. I laid them out on the reading table and allowed students to choose the ones they liked the best. This seemed to make the act of reading more comfortable for them right away. It was fun to watch them choose the colors. I had ordered all the colors and had them on the reading table. After a few months, I realized that I really only needed to order blue, green and blue/green transparencies. I found that these were the ones most chosen by my students.
Over the years I realized that my students who read more smoothly with the colored reading transparencies had eye convergence, teaming and binocularity issues. Because of this they would skip small words, reverse letters and words, or read a letter from the line above: all very frustrating issues for them.
Sometimes parents would take their child to vision therapy sessions with a developmental optometrist. This usually helped. However, since most of my families did not take their child to vision therapy, I did daily crossing the midline eye exercises with all of them, to encourage the visual processing skills to transfer to the child’s automatic brain hemisphere. This proved to be very effective.
With the studies of DHA for the correct functioning of the retina of the eye, I also suggested that the parents consider discussing with their doctor the studies that recommended 500mg of DHA to help feed their child’s retina rod cells. This also proved to be extremely helpful, bringing relief in about three months, according to my observations.
Where to Get Colored Transparencies
At first I thought that any colored plastic would help with reading. In fact, since my supply budget was extremely limited. I used some colored plastic folders from an office supply store. While my students liked the novelty of them, there was no observable change in their reading fluency.
I tried some of the very small strips that were sent to me as a reading teacher, but found that they were detrimental to my students’ ability to process whole phrases, and thus did not lead to any measurable increase in fluency. I wanted their eyes to be able to “scoop in” more words than just the small strip allowed.
Finally, I ordered some transparencies from the National Reading Service. I added these much more uniformly and deeply colored transparencies to the others, and sat back and observed my students. As they tried each one, in a few days I saw that all but these newer ones were ignored by my students.
In my classroom my goal was to eliminate the need for colored reading transparencies in the long run (after 8-10 months), by addressing the biological and eye teaming causes of the problem.
There certainly is not just one answer for reading struggles. However, it’s nice to try an easy, inexpensive method to help a child or teen read with more ease. The funny thing was that it seemed that many of my blue transparencies just “walked off.” After a while my chagrined college students who were doing their fieldwork in my class told me that they found they could study much longer when using these transparencies. Their eyes were just more relaxed. That was great feedback for me.
Interested in further study? Here are the resources referred to in this article:
1. Lucinda Willis, Ph.D., Barbara Locke, Ph.D., “Examining the Use of Colored Overlays with Field Dependent Reading Disabled Children,” Journal of Visual Literacy, 2009, Volume 27
2. Bazan NG, Rodriguez de Turco EB, Gordon WC., “Pathways for the uptake and conservation of docosahexaenoic acid in photoreceptors and synapses: biochemical and autoradiographic studies,” Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 1993
3. B.J. Stordy, “Benefit of Docosahexaenoic Acid supplement to dark adaptation,” Lancet, August 1995
4. Dianne Craft, “Daily Exercises to Promote Visual Processing Skills,” Brain Integration Therapy Manual, 2010 edition.
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