Monday, August 11, 2008

Transition Books for Children with Eye Tracking Problems

I continue to be challenged to find good books of an appropriate content (mature enough content) for my reader with a diagnosed eye tracking problem (which he is currently under treatment for). It would be easier if my son would just accept reading picture books or other large font texted books normally regarded for children aged eight and younger as those books are easier for readers with eye tracking problems to read.

My son’s eye tracking problem is resolving, that is, he is making progress and reading is becoming easier and easier for him with each week that goes by. Especially since the diagnosis was made (less than four months ago), I have been persuading him to read daily rather than letting him go without reading until the day comes when the eye doctor says “he is cured”. Actually part of his treatment/therapy is using a passive therapy of a prism lenses in his eyeglasses while reading, so reading in and of itself with the eyeglasses on is part of the treatment plan. So right now, the challenge is to find books with content that is of interest to my son, with books that are readable due to the page layout. The readability of books that are intentionally or unintentionally laid out on the page to be easier for readers with eye tracking problems to handle reading is the focus of this blog post.

Before I go further I want to make it clear that my son’s issue is not decoding words. My son has a strong foundation in phonics and can decode words just fine. He also has a very good vocabulary. He has been tested and his phonics decoding ability was a number of years above his grade level, and his intelligence test’s verbal aptitude (including vocabulary and understanding of various topics) was many years ahead of his chronological age. I say this not to brag but to explain that my son’s only issue is an eye tracking problem and is only an eye tracking problem. (Well he also is farsighted and has the new prescription reading glasses too; he has no other known reading challenges or deficits.) These test scores combined with what I see in real life proves that my son does not need books with simple words nor does he need short sentences. To what extent our family’s situation with the eye tracking will apply to other children will vary. For example if other children lack the foundation of phonics and they cannot decode words or just struggle with it, and if they have a limited vocabulary combined with an eye tracking problem, their situation could differ greatly from our family’s situation.

Readers with eye tracking problems will find it easier to read books with larger font and wider margins, or shall I say “more white space on the page”. I am not sure to what extent they need short sentences, such as very short sentences of dialogue compared to longer sentences or more complex sentences. My son has not balked at ‘normal’ length sentences with ‘not dumbed down’ vocabulary so long as the page layout is optimal.

If you are not aware or have not read my past writings on our family’s experience with my one son’s eye tracking problem I’ll share that often children with eye tracking problems are drawn to read comics, magazine articles, catalogs and newspapers that was the case with my older son as well. Readers with eye tracking problems prefer the different page layout of the column style as there is less likelihood to lose their place on the longer line. Reading things with columns or text in a comic strip bubble is easier for them to read. They can read faster and comprehend more as they lose their place less often because the end of the line of text arrives before their eyes may lose their place.

I wonder if a child or teen is struggling with an undiagnosed and untreated eye tracking problem if they may be drawn to read young adult genre graphic novels. Adults such as parents, teachers and librarians may say ‘I don’t care what they are reading so long as they are reading”. Some may say “the graphic novel or comic is a stepping stone to other more traditional books”. I can imagine the book publishing industry does not care what the kids and teens are reading so long as consumers are buying their books, so whether their profits come from traditional books or graphic novels they are equally happy. However I’d like to raise the notion that if these readers are indeed having eye tracking problems or other processing disorder learning disabilities or other reading struggles causing the problem, feeding those readers graphic heavy books with short sentences but mature themes is not fixing the root problem.

Graphic novels for young adults seem to be rising. I guess one can say if the teen can read normal books well and enjoys a graphic novel for pleasure reading that is fine. But if a teen cannot read a normal book and instead substitutes reading comics and graphic novels that does not seem good because reading those graphic novels won’t fix an eye tracking problem and it probably won’t put them on the path to reading longer, very good books, reading as required in college or even reading for information as is necessary or beneficial in adulthood. Let’s all remind ourselves that students who struggle with reading in school for various reasons do avoid reading in their adult lives. I would argue that across many areas of our adult lives, that using information gleaned from printed materials (including that on the Internet) does not just add to pleasure reading but can improve the quality of our lives and sometimes can even save our lives (especially when researching health matters and medical care options).

Regarding children reading comics. I am not in any way against children reading comics. I loved them as a preteen and both of my boys love them as well. I have heard it said over and over that children aged 9-11 love comics and this is ‘a stage’. I now know that it is not just a stage for all children, for those with eye tracking problems, they may be all that the child is able to read and understand due to their eye tracking problem. Children with eye tracking problems may stay stuck in a rut, reading and re-reading comics and not moving on to reading books which are on their grade level. In those children’s cases, the eye tracking problem, a brain processing disorder, is holding them back from progressing.

To what extent children require lots of graphics such as used in comic books or used in graphic novels is something worth thinking about and possibly debating (at another time). For now I’ll just plant that seed in your mind. There are some who say that certain people, certain readers or children of certain ages learn more on visuals and can absorb more from looking at the illustrations in a graphic novel than from reading that same information only via black ink words on a white page. I have no idea if that is true or not. However my goal is to get my children reading words on a page, to enjoy reading, to be able to read to learn and to find information, to read for academic (school) purposes and to read on a self-motivated basis for self-education in their private lives now and in their future years in adulthood. I seek to teach them to read and to remove any blockades to learning that may be encountered along the way.

One more issue that may exist for children who don’t have an eye tracking problem such as convergence insufficiency (what my son has) is the issue of eye dominance. There is an additional challenge that left-eye dominant children have. As you know in English we write left to right. This means that when we begin reading a line of text we lead with our right eye. Since about 85% of people are right-eye dominant, and if you are right-eye dominant and have never struggled to read, you may never have thought about this before. Left-eye dominant children must force their right eye to take control and take the lead in reading a line of text. About half way through the line, when the head is turned to look more directly at the page, or when the eyes line up directly in the center, the left-eye dominant person’s left eye tries to take over leading the reading, and often succeeds. The transition from one eye to the other can cause the reader to lose their place on that line. They must go back and find the word that they left off on. Sometimes they lose the whole line and must find it again on the page. Also when changing from the end of one line to the beginning of the next, the eye changes again and the reader may lose their line, either going up to lines already read, re-reading the same line, or accidentally skipping lines of text. Continually stopping and starting, or skipping words or lines of text will affect a reader’s reading comprehension. This can evidence itself through an inability to complete a school assigned work task (answering questions about the text) or making errors on a test. Not understanding what was read due to that kind of eye tracking error also turns the reader off to the content, so even an enjoyable story may not be enjoyed. It is also frustrating and can hinder the enjoyment of the reading experience in a broader sense. The love of reading or the love of learning through the written word may not be instilled in people with eye tracking problems, unless they are fixed.

Being drawn to read comics or magazine articles does not indicate the issues is lack of interest in reading or experiencing a longer story. This is often evidenced by these same children being willing, able and sometimes begging to listen to very long audio books (over twenty-five hours of a Harry Potter book for example and able to understand and remember the entire story). Some children are happy to listen to a story being read aloud for two, three hours or more. My son has listened to stories up to six hours a day, for example, listening while riding on a long car drive or while playing with LEGOs. Other children who don’t listen to many professionally recorded books often rely on and ask their parents to do very long read-aloud’s from regular books. I know some of you may be thinking, “Well that child must be an auditory learner”. I don’t want to get into that debate but just want to point out that some children who want to read and who can decode words and who have a good vocabulary but are just unable to read certain books might indeed have some kind of an (undiagnosed) eye tracking problem or may be in need of regular prescription reading glasses.

Even when motivated by desire or external rewards, these children will often refuse to read the book or may even admit they just can’t read it. An example from our family is that I forbid the watching of the Spiderwick Chronicles movie until the book series was read. This is mainly because I have yet to see a movie that has done the original book justice. Most books which are made into movies deserve to have the original, superior book read and enjoyed first. Based on my own experience, seeing a sub-par movie which seems great and then reading the original book later is not the same as doing it the other way around. Despite my son’s friends watching Spiderwick, and talking about it, and my son seeing the media hype and really wanting to see it, my son lost out on seeing the movie in the theatre due to his declaration that he could not read the books (he did not even try, saying if it was a chapter book then he could not read it).

Set of the five Spiderwick Chronicles books---

This son also gave up on reading the last Harry Potter book despite loving the series and dying to know what happened. In an effort to motivate him to finish reading it, I also refused to read the story aloud to him when he asked me to. He did read about half of the book along with his friends the first night it came out, but later said he didn’t understand it and could not remember the story and refused to finish it. I thought that my refusal to read the book aloud would push him over the edge and would entice him to read it. I also read the book to myself (modeling the desired behavior) and that didn’t work. I refused to tell him the outcome and did say it was great. I did succumb to his pleading, and put my name on the hold list at the library for the audio book but we waited about three months to get it, at which point he said he still could not read the book so I gave in and let him listen to the audio book.

The same movie/book issue came up with "Eragon". I am proud to say that as of this week, my son has read all the Spiderwick books and has seen the movie (he says the books were better). My son has also just completed reading "Eragon" so soon he’ll see the movie.

The long attention span of these children’s ability to listen for hours and hours to audio books indicates to me that they do not have an attention span problem that is causing them to refuse or be able to read a book to themselves and to enjoy and comprehend it. The easiest way to prove this is when a child is unable to read the printed book but can listen to it being read aloud and fully understand it. Their ability to comprehend the story and the vocabulary indicates that the issue is not the language used in the books; it is not that they can’t think or understand the words in that story. As Dianne Craft would say, smart kids who can’t read and who want to read are having a blocked learning gate, experiencing some kind of brain-based processing disorder.

Children with eye tracking problems are not necessarily stupid or ignorant so they don’t all need dumbed down content or controlled limited simple vocabulary. I am sure some children out there are in the category of also having limited vocabularies and requiring low-vocabulary books. What stumps the children with eye tracking issues is the layout of the words upon the page and what happens when their eyes try to read the text and to convert it in the brain to something that can be understood and remembered.

Finding Books for Children to Read

When looking for books for children with eye tracking conditions, I don’t think that pictures on the page are an issue. While some children may have convinced themselves that pictures in the books automatically comes with larger font and more white space on the page, they may be drawn to read or may request books with pictures on at least some of the pages. My son did that at first, asking for books with pictures because he was used to books with pictures having the larger font and more white space on the page. Later when he realized that he could read certain books with certain font sizes and page layouts and that he could understand, remember and enjoy those books, he stopped asking for books with pictures in them. So even if the child specifically asks for or look for books with pictures and may reject books without pictures at first, I want you to know the issue is the font size and page layout and to try to find books that satisfy that rather than focusing only on providing your reader with books with illustrations.

I’ll note also that more books with a journal format including many illustrations often draw in these readers with eye tracking problems. A popular series by Marissa Moss about a girl named Amelia has many little sketch drawings with tidbit style journal writings that form a story. My boys enjoy the Amelia books. I personally don’t like the tone of the books and find them snarky. Moss also wrote one book in this style for boys,"Max’s Logbook” and my boys loved it. However when I read it I had several issues with the content and was sorry I let my sons read it at all.

"Amelia's Notebook" by Marissa Moss (one in the series)

"Max's Logbook" by Marissa Moss

I noticed a jump in my older son’s reading after he received his prescription reading glasses with prisms and began his light therapy for his eye tracking problem. I’ll share some of the books he has been reading since his reading took off.

My son enjoyed reading a number of fiction novels written by Max Elliott Anderson. They are Christian (very light) and are mysteries. I reviewed North Woods Poachers recently and you can read that review here. The page layout is helpful to those with eye tracking problems. The author confirmed with me via email that this page layout was intentional. Anderson states these books are for "reluctant readers". I wonder how many "reluctant readers" are children with undiagnosed reading problems or undiagnosed processing disorders such as eye tracking conditions?

After that my son read all of the Spiderwick Chronicles (fantasy) books as those have small pages sizes and lots of white space on the page. He read the five original books, then the first in the “Beyond” series (the only one published at this point in time). He then read the "Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to Fantastical Beasts" book. Having no other books to read in that series, he moved on.

"The Nixie's Song", first book in the "Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles" series--

"Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide..." which is rich in illustrations and explains a lot about the creatures featured in the book.

My son also enjoys realistic fiction and had read nearly all of the Andrew Clements books, which also have a good amount of white space on the page. He read a couple more books which he had not read before.

Next my son read one books in the series “My Name is America”, the boy series that correlates to the “Dear America” series. He picked one that was of content interest to him. These are diary style historical fiction books about a child’s life in certain important times in American history. Those too had a good amount of white space on the page. I believe these are written on a grade four or five reading level. The books are no longer being written and published and some of the titles have already gone out of print. Scholastic is the publisher. Wikipedia actually has good entries on these two book series and Scholastic has quite an educational site for the series as well.

My son then asked to read the Hardy Boys series and I did give him the first title. He told me the book was boring and he stopped reading it. I did note that the page layout seemed good for readers with eye tracking problems. I recall hearing somewhere that these are about a grade four or five reading level. A friend told me that they contain dating and some other things that are not necessarily worthwhile for precocious younger readers to need to read. Also a homeschool mom book lover acquaintance of mine who I met on a chat list recently told me that one book has suicide in it and they also contain cigarette smoking. I was then happy that my son chose to not read the series. I’ve never read them so I have no opinion of them.

In a casual experiment with ‘strewing’, at that point, a couple of weeks ago I put the books "Eragon" and "Eldest" by Christopher Paladini (fantasy fiction) in my son’s bedroom on a bookshelf near his bed. (The publisher classifies this as a book for readers age 12 and up.) I recalled he wanted to see the movie "Eragon" and I refused to let him watch it until he read the book. However this hardcover book has over 400 pages and was intimidating to him in the past. Although I consider this more ‘normal’ page layout, being without large font and not a ton of white space on the page, my son did pick it up off of his bookshelf and started reading it on his own. He was riveted by it and only then did he tell me he had taken it upon himself to start reading it. He read it daily all on his own, often staying up late at night to continue reading it. He loved the book and went immediately to read the second book in the series, "Eldest".

Now I wonder if my son has made the transition to requiring books with certain font sizes and lots of white space to being able to handle reading books which are of the more typical page layout. I note also that he is a full year younger than the publisher’s stated reading age for the book. The content was very interesting for my son to read and he really enjoyed the book.

I am still on the lookout for more books whose page layout is easier to read for readers with eye tracking problems. I would love to compile a listing of books that meet this need so that other parents, or even teachers or librarians, or Behavioral Optometrists who treat eye tracking problems, can recommend these titles to the children. I will now share more information about the books I stumbled upon.

There are over 15 titles in the “My Name is America” series (boy interest) and over 40 titles in the “Dear America” series (girl interest). I have not read them myself so I don’t know if the titles cross over well across genders. If they do that would be great because there are more books with girl characters. These books are educational as well, being all about American history.

The Journal of Sean Sullivan, about the Transcontinental Railroad from "My Name is America" series.

"A Light in the Storm" about the Civil War in the "Dear America Series"

The “American Girl” series also has a lot of white space on the page although girls aged 6-8 are usually drawn to that book series, so that would not help a child over age eight in some cases.

"Meet Kit" by Valerie Tripp, one in the "American Girl" series

The revised (abridged) books in the go-along series of the Little House books, about the lives of the relatives of Laura Ingalls Wilder also are written for younger readers and have more white space on the page. The abridged books have photographic covers. You can read a bit more about this on author Melissa Wiley’s website, here.

"Little House by Boston Bay" abridged version for younger readers by Melissa Wiley (photograph on cover)

"Little House by Boston Bay" unabridged version for readers aged 9-12 by Melissa Wiley (painted illustration on cover)

More Ideas?

If you know of more books with a page layout that is helpful for readers with eye tracking problems and want to share them with me and others, please leave a comment to this blog post. Also if you have any thoughts and ideas about this topic I’d really love to hear what you have to say. Thank you!

A Word of Caution about Comics and Graphic Novels

In case despite what I said, you are still in the market to supply your reader with more comics or with graphic novels, when looking for comics or graphic novels for preteen readers beware. I learned this lesson the hard way. Do not just go to the “young adult” section of the bookstore or the library to find graphic novels for children aged 8-13 (or whatever older age you feel is appropriate for your child). Some of the titles technically in the “young adult” genre are more suited for teenagers or even older teens (if at all). They may have themes of romance or feature very sexy looking people. I was surprised to find at my public library, some of the new books on the older superheroes actually contain sex scenes or nude bodies, with hands or other things carefully covering the most vital body parts which otherwise might make the book considered pornography. Also note that some of the “T” (teen) rated manga, in English translated from the Japanese may contain not just romance but sex and a number of series focus on homosexual relationships. Even some of the manga that seems tame may suddenly have something quite sexual pop into the middle of a story.

Other External Links

Scholastic site for "Dear America" series including an area for parents and teachers

Wikipedia entry "Dear America" series (with book list)

Wikipedia entry "My Name is America" series (with book list)

Dianne Craft's website about struggling learners, with articles and information

For more of my blog posts on eye tracking problems click on the label below "learning disabilities".

For more of my blog posts on teaching reading click on the label "teaching reading" or "reading comprehension".

Technorati Tags: , , , .


Karen said...


If you have some older, out of copyright books that you think would fit the bill, you could download them from Project Gutenberg. You could then yank them into a word processing program, lay them out to meet your needs then print them out. It's a bit of work when you start, but once you get the hang of how they are formatted, you can automate some of the process.

I've done this with some books I've used either whole or excerpted. I was doing this even before we knew about our eye issues here. I just prefer to read on paper and prefer to make things more readable.

If your word processor let you, instead of setting the line spacing in terms of lines, set it to points, then adjust the points to give you the white space you want between the lines or mm. Either will give you much finer control.

Vivian said...

This was a great post. I keep watching my 8yr old dd. She has a very strong background in phonics but isn't reading on her own. She sometimes rubs her eyes, normally when she is frustrated. I have taken her to the eye dr. but if her reading doesn't pick up by this spring I will take her to the Pediatric Opt. that my younger son goes to. They can diagnose much more.

I agree with you on the Graphic novels. My son 10 yrs. LOVES them. Unfortunately, the majority of them are so inappropriate- we've had to ban them... If you have some titles that are ok we would love to hear about them.

christinemm said...

A friend suggested I buy the Amazon Kindle. I have researched the Kindle and see you can change the font size. I do not see the line spacing though. I am unsure if how the line spacing or leaving wider margins on the page is also able to be edited by Kindle, or if a decent amount of that happens automatically when changing the font size.

I also am not sure how many books for readers aged 9-12 are available for the Kindle. I did see that Eragon (ages 12 and up) is available, however I note that it is a very popular selling book tied in to a movie and video games.

I know Kindle is great for adults reading popular fiction and popular best selling nonfiction, newspapers and websites.

I need to research the Kindle more.

I also see that somehow, not sure how, Amazon lets people view the Kindle in person in local areas near where we live, supposedly.

Since I already own thousands of children's books and have free access to the public library I am hesistant to pay over $350 for the Kindle then have to buy every book individually for it. Therefore I'm not rushing to finish researching this Kindle option right now, too busy doing other things...

christinemm said...

Karen---The Project Gutenberg idea is fantastic, especially if I want certain titles to be read. Thanks.

christinemm said...

For Japanese manga (translated to English) there is a rating system on each book.

I have complained to Amazon via email that their system does not tell the rating of the book in the product information. I don't think they changed their system yet even though it was months ago that I emailed them.

The manga rating A is for "all ages".

The rating T is for "teen" and those I've seen things like french kissing, comments on body parts (praising large breasts for example), declarations of lusting after certain girls or liking their body parts, nudity, what looks like sexual intercourse happening, and other things like that.

We found a manga series rated "A" Hikaru No Go which is about playing a Japanese board game called Go.

Dr. Slump is rated "T" and I have issues with that. I am holding our copies on hand until later on. I reviewed volume one and tell some of my issues with it. You can read that here.

The "T" rated "Shonen Jump" magazine has serial versions of manga. THe problem there is some are okay for younger kids (i.e. Yu-Gi-Oh!) while others are more problematic teen ratings.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Good post!
The Boychick is still in love with graphic novels and the marvel-type comic books, and a steady diet of non-fiction. He does occasionally read science fiction, but that's it for fiction. I think his issues have more to do with his extreme reliance on visual processing than any tracking problems, though.
He did read LOTR (all three books)but then it was right back to non-fiction. However, he will read the Master and Commander series over and over. For him, it seems that when he reads substantial books, though, it is mostly non-fiction.