—Amanda Zeller Manley, O.D., F.C.O.V.D.
It’s always nice when research proves the benefit of what we’ve already been doing in clinic.
For the last several years, as e-readers have become more prevalent, I have been recommending them to many of my patients. In our clinic, we have found that by increasing the font size (which also increases letter/word spacing and decreases the number of words per line), many of our vision therapy patients report that they can read more quickly, with better comprehension and less fatigue.
So I was quite pleased to hear an NPR story a few days ago about a study described in the journal PLOS ONE. Researchers had dyslexic students read on specially formatted iPods or printed text. For many of the students, reading on the iPods (limited to about 3 words per line) greatly improved their reading speed and fluency.
The lead researcher, Matthew Schneps, director of the Laboratory for Visual Learning at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, postulates that the mechanisms involved include visual attention span; saccades (the small word-to-word eye movements we make when reading); and visual crowding. By limiting the amount of text per line, deficiencies in those areas don’t have the same effect as when a person reads a normally printed page.
What I find interesting is that in the article, there was no mention of whether these students had had a comprehensive vision examination to look for oculomotor dysfunction, convergence problems (excess or insufficiency), or other binocular vision disorders. In numerous other publications, there have been links between dyslexia and eye movement disorders and binocular vision problems. In many studies of learning disabilities and vision disorders, it has been found that up to 70% of students who have been diagnosed with a learning disability have a vision problem that may be causing or exacerbating that learning difficulty. It would be interesting to see whether the population described in Dr. Schneps’s study has a similar incidence of vision problems.
Fortunately, vision therapy has shown to be a very effective tool in eliminating the underlying visual problems that interfere with reading and learning. And in the meantime, an iPod fits neatly in your pocket.