Using a finger to maintain a place when reading may or may not be an indication of a vision problem. In some cases, beginning or struggling readers look at a line of text but their eyes don’t automatically move smoothly over the words. This could cause them to skip words, lines or cause their eyes to jump around on the page. Using the index finger helps remedy this by assisting the eyes as they track across the page.
In these circumstances, the kinesthetic connection to the page helps to focus the eye and makes it easier for the reader to integrate the various pieces of the text. Using a finger to help maintain place can be an effective strategy to assist children to learn to read, and can even assist adults to improve their reading skills.
However, there is the possibility that individuals who skip words or lines when reading could be experiencing an eye tracking problem. These individuals may have slow and/or inaccurate eye movements that require compensatory behaviors such as head movements or using a finger to guide vision while reading. Eye tracking problems can therefore interfere with attention span, reading fluency, reading comprehension, copying, handwriting, and sports performance.
Usually, your eyes move in tandem to process information and relay it to your brain, while maintaining binocular vision. When you read text, your eyes move in tiny jumps called saccades. If the saccades don’t occur with proper coordination and timing, the eyes are unable to work together as they are meant to. Children with eye tracking problems tend to skip words in sentences and may compensate by using their finger to trace their way along a page. Eye tracking skills can be improved with vision therapy. If your child is having trouble reading and you believe that they are experiencing an eye tracking problem, consult your eye doctor to determine the correct course of therapy.