Oculomotor dysfunction refers to a problem with the eye's motor and muscle control. Oculomotor dysfunction often results in difficulties with eye tracking.
Oculomotor control requires specific tracking skills called
1. Saccades (a rapid eye flick)
2. Pursuits (smooth eye movement)
The visual requirements to be able to read well require a person to perform good oculomotor control whilst incorporating a cognitive component. For example, when reading, one has to move their eyes through the text, whilst also recognising the words and putting them together to have an understanding of the entire sentence.
Evaluating oculomotor control involves testing a person's ability to move their eyes whilst adding a cognitive component (i.e. moving eyes whilst counting).
Someone who struggles to either move their eyes well and/or be able to a simultaneous cognitive component is diagnosed with an oculomotor dysfunction.
A few common signs and symptoms of oculomotor dysfunction include
- difficulty changing focus from distance to near (i.e. copying from the board to book)
- skipping words/lines whilst reading
- getting lost often whilst reading
- poor performance in reading and spelling
- closing or covering an eye to concentrate
Oculomotor control and the eye movements associated with reading are developed with repetition; the more a child reads, the more the eye movements are developed and fine-tuned. However, if the eye movements are not developed adequately enough such that it causes enough frustration whilst reading that a child starts to avoid the task, the eyes may miss the opportunity to properly develop these skills. Hence, it is a fine line between allowing enough frustration for the eyes to learn how to coordinate and fine-tune themselves, whilst still maintaining a desire to read.
The treatment of oculomotor dysfunction may include special glasses, called prism bifocal glasses, that contain specific prisms that help align the eyes for improved aiming and tracking skills. Vision therapy can also be prescribed to develop the effortless control of eye movements required to keep place and read fluently while maintaining comprehension and understanding.