Clin Pediatr (Phila). 2014 May 1. [Epub ahead of print]
Reviewed by Marc B. Taub, OD, MS
It goes without question that without the ability to read, learning would be rather difficult. Efficient reading impacts fluency and therefore reading comprehension. School teachers and reading specialists work tirelessly with children every day to improve their reading skills; what if training saccadic eye movements could provide a possible solution? In this pilot study, the impact of saccadic training on early reading fluency is investigated.
Seventy-six children from a private urban school in grades kindergarten through third grade participated in the study. All children underwent a school vision screening and had a binocular near point visual acuity of 20/20. Subjects, 56 in the treatment group and 20 in the control group, were evaluated with either the Reading Fluency Assessment: Wechsler Individual Achievement Test Third Addition (WIAT) (grades one to three) or the King-Devick test (kindergarten). The WIAT Reading Fluency subtest consists of two timed, grade-level specific reading passages. The total number of words read, number of errors made and total time are recorded. The treatment consisted of the KD remediation software which is a similar format to the KD test. Randomized numbers are presented at variable speeds from left to right; the participants read the numbers as quickly as possible. The control group was presented numbers positioned in the center of the screen. The training consisted of 20 minute sessions, three days a week for six weeks. The total training time was six hours for both the treatment and control groups. The WIAT and KD tests were completed after the treatment was completed and one year post treatment in 25 participants.
Subjects in the treatment group had significantly higher reading scores post-treatment (P<0.001) and in comparison to the control group (P<0.005). The one year post-treatment scores for all grades were higher but only grade one was significant (P=0.037). For the KD test, which was done with kindergartners only the treatment group showed significant improvement post-treatment (P<0.001) and in comparison to the control group (P=0.0435). The post-treatment one year scores also showed significant improvement (P<0.005).
This study shows that remediation of saccadic eye movements is not only possible but a reality. Remediation was also demonstrated to have a long impact. There are indeed questions about this study. Will the gains made translate into a true improvement in reading? Will these changes in tests results translate to the classroom? While the students took part in a vision screening program, what did that entail? Were there children that had convergence, accommodative or even tracking issues included in the study unknowingly? Also, in looking at the training regimen, would these children show greater improvement with a true program of optometric vision therapy? While limited in scope, the results lend credence to the concept of improvement in reading fluency with a program of vision training.