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Reading Between the Lions

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Janyce Rossall shares information at the Reno Cigar Lions Club.
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Reading Between the Lions
“If a child can look at the right place, the teacher can teach them to read.”
Dr. Richard Meier

The Nevada Optometric Assocation (NOA) recently recognized Lion Janyce Rossall and the Lions Club of Reno with its Vision Award of Community Service. In its first year, the award recognizes an organization or individual that continues to do work in the community (locally, statewide, nationally, and/or internationally) to promote eye health and eye care.

Rossall is the co-developer and a director of the local club’s Read Between the Lions program, which helps teachers and parents identify and address a problem that affects reading abilities in at least 20% of children — saccadic fixation dysfunction.

Saccadic fixation is a keystone visual skill necessary for reading. It is the eyes’ ability to “jump” together from one word to the next as a person is reading a line of print. When saccadic fixation dysfunction occurs, it makes it difficult for people to control how they move their eyes, making reading almost impossible — think of someone trying to swing a bat without having control of their fingers.

Fortunately, once the problem is identified, it’s fairly easy to address, as it’s a matter of training the eye muscles to work together more efficiently.

“We are honored to be acknowledged by the Nevada Optometric Association, as we’re working to bring attention to a condition that affects the reading skills of 20% of the general population,” said Rossall. “By offering a screening and remediation program, we help correct saccadic fixation dysfunction.”

Lions To The Rescue

“Early detection is obviously the key to getting children on track for successful reading,” explains Dr. Richard Meier, who addressed this problem with hundreds of children in his 36-year career as a Reno optometrist.  

In his practice, Dr. Meier used the King Devick Test which is used by many optometrists to identify and address the problem of saccadic fixation dysfunction.

Once he retired, he began working with the Washoe County Lions Sight Conservation Committee to create a program for use in local elementary schools, and to help even more families address this challenge.  Working with Rossall, he is the co-developer and adirector of the program. They adapted the King Devick Test to be more appealing to children and made it accessible to their parents and teachers, offering free downloadable forms that provide screening and teaching tools and a remediation program designed to help overcome a saccadic fixation dysfunction.

During a Read Between the Lions screening, children are timed while they read a line of numbers out loud, starting at the top left and reading from left to right just like with a book.  When they reach the last number at the end of each line, they’re instructed to move down to the next line and continue the process. They then repeat the process with incrementally harder pages.  While they’re doing this, a volunteer is timing them and noting any skipped numbers or other errors. They are also taking notice of behavior during the screening — is the child using a finger to read, moving their head, looking around, do they seem tired, or show signs they may need glasses. 

The time and errors are scored to determine if the eyes are tracking at an age-appropriate level, or if they have a saccadic fixation dysfunction. Those who are borderline or at-risk are referred for remediation that is designed to help train eye muscles to move together more efficiently.

“It’s a very simple process,” Dr. Meier explains.  “Anyone can train to be a screener, and then use this system in their own school, club, or family. Our experience shows that they’ll see change pretty quickly.”

Lions in the Schools

In 2015, they began developing the program with volunteer Lions Clubs members going into a Reno elementary school, where they screened 100 first graders. Through the screening, they identified 20 children who were borderline or at-risk. The Lion volunteers then spent an hour twice a week for 12 weeks working with those 20 children, 10 minutes with each child per session. The remediation consisted of repetitive focusing techniques used in connection with eye-hand coordination, done in time to a metronome beat — children were asked to hit stars on a page in time to the beat, with the beat increasing as they got better at hitting the stars.

“By the end of that time period that totaled only about an hour per child, all of the children had improved and many were able to track at an age-appropriate level,” Rossall shares.

After seeing success, the Lions took the further development and fine-tuning of the program into other local elementary schools with similar results.

“We changed the paradigm to address this as a reading skill rather than a vision problem, so they don’t have to go through the school nurse,” Dr. Meier explains. “If a child can look at the right place, the teacher can teach them to read.”

Taking Pride in the Program

Rossall has been the driving force behind expanding the program beyond Reno by offering it for free to Lions Clubs around the world to use with their local schools and parents. Dr. Meier travels extensively and has spoken to Lions Clubs, educational professionals and professional associations in Las Vegas, Portland, Tucson, Herlong, New Mexico, South Africa, Costa Rica, and anywhere else he’s invited. The program was introduced internationally by Dr. Meier in 2018 in Australia, when he presented it to the 8th International Congress of Behavioural Optometry. That presentation led to the program expanding into Michigan with the help of Lion Dr. Bob Hohendorf, who attended the congress.

“I so admire Dr. Meier’s dedication to this program,” Rossall shares. “His passion inspired me to help him build the program we have today. He says he couldn’t have done it without me and I say I wouldn’t have done it without him!”

“Janyce is a passionate human vision dynamo and deserves recognition for all her efforts to help children read better by increasing their saccadic fixation ability,” Dr. Meier says.

Rossall has also been awarded a Lions Clubs International Presidential Leadership Award for the program.

“As the mother of a child who once despised reading due to her issues with saccadic fixation, I can attest to how important it is to find this out and get the help needed to fix it,” said NOA Executive Director Terri Ogden. “That child is now a voracious reader and has a library of more than 100 books in her room. Janyce and Dr. Meier have done so much for children in our community with Read Between the Lions. I’m proud that this project that started here in Northern Nevada has grown not only in our state, but nationally and internationally.”

You can learn more by visiting ReadBetweenTheLions.org for program information and free downloadable screening and remediation forms.

 

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