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Visual Processing

Vision and Cognitive Development

What is a Visual Processing (or Visual Perceptual) Deficit?

The brain, not the eyes, processes the visual world, including things like symbols, pictures and distances. Weaknesses in these brain functions are called visual processing/perceptual deficits. For example, if your child passes the vision test at their checkup but doesn’t see the difference between a triangle and a square, their eyes are not the problem. The problem is her visual processing skills.

With most children, visual processing develops normally without any special attention or intervention. In some children however, the development of visual processing skills does not keep pace with their growth in other areas. This lag of development can lead to difficulty acquiring a sound foundation in reading, handwriting, and math skills in the early grades.

While there are ways to help kids compensate for those weaknesses, visual processing issues present lifelong challenges if not addressed. They are not considered a learning disability, however are fairly common in kids who have learning issues. They also impact their ability to do ordinary things like sorting socks or playing a simple game of kickball. They can also lead to problems with socializing and self-esteem. Some kids may become frustrated and withdrawn.

What Types of Visual Processing Deficits Can Occur?

  • Visual Discrimination deficits: difficulty seeing the difference between two similar letters, shapes or objects. A person may mix up letters, confusing d and b, or p and q or not understand the difference between a circle and an oval.
  • Figure-ground deficits: not being able to pull out a shape or character from its background. A person may have trouble finding a specific piece of information on a page when it’s surrounded with other images, type and colors.
  • Sequencing deficits: cause difficulty in being able to tell the order of symbols, words or images. A person may skip lines when reading or misread letters, numbers and words, sometimes even reversing them.
  • Visual-motor Integration deficits: cause difficulty in using feedback from the eyes to coordinate the movement of other parts of the body. For example, writing within the lines or margins can be tough, copying from a book can be difficult, and a person may have poor eye-hand coordination.
  • Visual Memory deficits difficulty recalling what has been seen. This can cause a lot of problems in reading and spelling. It can also make a person have trouble remembering what they’ve read/seen, as well as where letters, numbers, and symbols are on a calculator or keyboard.
  • Spatial Relations deficits: difficulty being able to tell where objects are in space, such as how far things are from each other and from a person. It includes being able to make these same observations whether the objects and characters are from written descriptions or given in a spoken narrative. Often a person will have a tough time reading maps and judging time.
  • Visual Closure deficits: difficulty identifying an object when only parts are visible. For instance, a person may not recognize a truck if it’s missing it’s wheels. Or being able to tell there’s a person in a drawing if that person is missing facial features. Often people with closure issues will have great difficulty with spelling because they can’t recognize a word if a letter is missing.
  • Letter, number and symbol reversal deficits: switching/reversing letters or numbers when reading, writing or speaking. This is normally seen after the age of 7 when trouble with letter formation starts affecting reading, writing and math skills.

What Are the Signs of a Visual Processing deficit?

  • Reversals of letters, numbers or words
  • Sloppy handwriting, poor spacing of letters, can’t stay on a line
  • Difficulty copying from the board
  • Doesn’t complete tests or written work
  • Poorly organized written work
  • Overwhelmed with crowded pages or worksheets
  • Difficulty with scantron answer sheets
  • Responds better verbally (especially with spelling words)
  • Poor fine or gross motor skills
  • Confusion of similar words when reading
  • Poor retention of visual material (sight words)
  • Poor attention during visual tasks
  • Better auditory learner

Take the Vision Quiz to see if your child has signs of a Learning Related Vision Problem.