Yes, you read right. Eye coordination, not eye-hand coordination. Eye coordination is the ability of both eyes to work together as a unit to form a single picture from the two slightly different images each individual eye sees. A lack of eye coordination can cause problems with double vision, depth perception, headaches, irritability and difficulty in reading and concentrating.
Good eye coordination is a skill that often needs to be developed.
Nine-year old Jerry and his parents came in to see me about halfway through the fourth grade. His parents were stressed out. They were sure that Jerry should be diagnosed with ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder).
Jerry had an active imagination and an impish grin. But he was like a weather vane during a windy day when it came to attending to a task—he swung between maintaining no focus at all and being hyper-focused and irritable when distracted.
Jerry’s principal, who had decades of experience working with elementary school boys, suspected that Jerry had an issue with his eyes. The parents contacted Thrive Occupational Therapy and asked that I evaluate Jerry.
The principal was right—Jerry did indeed have an issue with his eyes. In fact, he had great difficulty tracking moving items or words on a page. This meant that his eye muscles were not working together in a coordinated way.
Why Is Eye Coordination Important?
Eye muscle coordination isn’t the same thing as visual acuity. A child with eye tracking difficulties will not necessarily need to wear glasses.
Eye muscle coordination provides vital information to the vestibular, or balance system. The vestibular system allows people to maintain balance, move through space and stand upright. It also coordinates communication from the vestibular organs in the inner ears, eyes and muscles joints.
When the eyes (or ears) don’t function well, a child’s balance, movement, and spatial orientation may be affected. For example, a child with poor eye muscle coordination might easily become dizzy or he may get a headache from head or body movements that most people would have no problems with. Alternatively, he may need a lot of vestibular stimulation like spinning and may be termed hyperactive because he needs a lot of movement for his nerves to register that he is moving. This is because the vestibular system is stimulated through movement of the body.
How Can I Tell If My Child Might Benefit From Having His Eye Coordination Evaluated?
If your child has any of the following difficulties, you might want to have him evaluated by an occupational therapist:
- Difficulty focusing on an object the teacher is showing in class
- Difficulty reading a book
- Difficulty following a ball as it soars through the air
- Difficulty copying homework from the board (a vertical surface) to a notebook (a horizontal surface)
Also, if your child has been diagnosed with a learning disability or ADHD, it’s a good idea to have an occupational therapist evaluate his eyes, ears, and vestibular system. Dysfunctions in these areas may often be treated to alleviate symptoms of the learning disability, hyperactivity, or distractibility. Sometimes, eye coordination problems are even misdiagnosed entirely as attention or learning disorders.
How Can Occupational Therapy Help With Eye Muscle Coordination?
Eye Coordination can be helped with occupational therapy. At OT Thrive we design a personalized program for your child that may include exercises to strengthen and develop balance, eye tracking, convergence, divergence and more.
With treatment, Jerry’s hyperactivity has disappeared. Also, his distractibility when presented with outside stimuli has decreased significantly. We are still working on helping Jerry focus on one activity for a sustained length of time, but his parents and I agree—we’re heading in the right direction.
If your child sounds like Jerry, or if you have any other questions regarding eye coordination or the vestibular system, please email me at Miriam at otthrive dot com or contact us using the form below.