Helping children with dyslexia: Improving visual tracking

May 13, 2016 Published by

In this series from VisionWorks, we are exploring the visual difficulties often experienced by children with dyslexia. This time, we are looking at visual tracking and how to help your child develop this skill.

The ability to look at things is a familiar part of the process of seeing. Looking is achieved by moving the eyes to point to a new location. Large movements involve coordinated action of the eyes, head and body, but smaller movements, such as those made when looking at a picture are made with the eyes alone. These smaller movements are known as saccades or tracking.


Tracking involves making your eyes follow incoming information and processing it in your brain to get the correct meaning. People with dyslexia often have problems focusing on letters and numbers and following them on the page, which can impair the ability to read and learn - 70% of all learning comes through the ability to track with our eyes. Eye tracking is broken down into three main abilities: fixation (short stops), saccades (short rapid movements), and pursuit (following a moving target). Eye tracking exercises can:

  • Improve the way your eyes follow words on a page and track movements through the peripheral vision
  • Help the eyes to remain focused on an object without moving
  • Help to move the eyes quickly when needed to jump from one line of vision to another (such as moving to the next line in a book)


When reading, people with tracking problems will often lose their place and skip or muddle words. They usually have difficulty with comprehension and may use their fingers to follow a line of print. Copying instructions from the board or from books can pose serious difficulty for children with a tracking difficulty. Sometimes, a person may experience few problems during the early years but then experience difficulty with reading as they move up in school and work, when the print in books becomes smaller and more difficult to track.

There are lots of activities that can help your child to improve their visual tracking skills:

  • Fixation tracking: Hold two very different looking pencils or targets (for example; one red and one blue), 30 cms apart in front of the child’s face. Ask your child to look at the red pencil and after one second, ask them to look at the blue one. Keep switching back and forth between pencils, but change the amount of time in between in each switch.
  • Saccade tracking: In a dark room, either lie on the floor or sit on the bed with your child next to you. You and your child each have a flashlight. Take turns to shine the light on an object, and then the other has to shine their light on the same object as fast as they can
  • Pursuit tracking: In a dark room, one person shines a torch, slowly dragging it along the wall and ceiling, and the other follows it with their light
  • Hidden pictures: I Spy books such as Where’s Wally or papers where a person has to search for hidden objects are good for eye tracking. You can also play I Spy at home. Look around the room and tell your child, for example, "I spy something green, blue and round." Your child has to look around the room and find an object that fits that description
  • Counting letters: Using books or newspapers, you can ask your child to look through the print and count or cross out a certain letter, e.g. ‘o’. This game can be repeated over and over with different letters

Article kindly contributed by Sarah Evans MMedSci, BSc(Hons)

Sarah is a consultant orthoptist working in Jersey and specialises in visual screening, diagnosis and management of visually related specific learning difficulties.


child reading by anthony kelly

Where's Wally? - Pattern by Robbe Haegeman

Published: May 2016

Edited by: Anna Taylor

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This post was written by Anna Taylor

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