Karen’s fourth child, a daughter named Abbie, was bright and highly verbal. Abbie learned phonics and loved drawing. But, even at eight or nine years old, Abbie could barely make it through an easy reader. Her mother was at a loss. She had taken her to three different doctors to check her vision.
“She has 20/20 vision,” was the first reply.
“No, her vision is perfect! She’ sees better than most people who wear glasses,” the second doctor confirmed.
“No need for corrective lenses. Abbie seems to have no problem with sight,” the third doctor reported.
While it was nice to know that Abbie did not have any problems with her vision, it was very difficult for Karen to understand what was causing Abbie’s lack of reading progress. She couldn’t read from the board, but she did really well in school if her teachers said the words aloud as they wrote.
Finally, Karen took Abbie to an educational psychologist, who diagnosed her with a “visual processing disorder.” No wonder Abbie had been struggling for so many years. Her vision was perfect, but the connection between her eyes and her brain was very different from other children.
Children sit in the classroom and are presented with an array of information for their senses: the writing on the board, the voices of their teacher and classmates, and the feel of the pencil in their hand.
As functioning adults, we don’t realize all the things that have to go “right” in order to ensure that the information presented actually enters the brain and is stored as memory. One particular disorder that is very difficult to understand is visual processing disorder.
What is a visual processing disorder?
A visual processing disorder is characterized by a decreased ability to make sense of information taken in through the eyes. This does not mean that the child with visual processing disorder has trouble seeing and needs glasses. Rather, the eye functions normally, but the difficulty arises when the visual information is interpreted or processed by the brain. Auditory processing disorder is a similar disorder which refers to the inability to decode information taken in through the ears (again, this is not a hearing problem, but an issue with the way the brain functions).
What are different areas of visual processing?
Visual discrimination: This skill involves using sight to distinguish between one item and another. For instance, if there are two pieces of fruit in a bowl, you recognize that there is an apple and an orange.
Symptoms of the disorder: Children with visual processing disorder will have trouble seeing the difference between similar objects, shapes and letters.
Remediation: To aid those with trouble in visual discrimination, clearly space words and problems on a page. Additionally, point out potentially confusing letters or shapes (such as “d” and “b” or “n” and “m”).
Visual figure-ground discrimination: This involves differentiating between a shape and its background. For example, a duck in a pond or a red “R” on a green background.
Symptoms of the disorder: It can be hard for children to find a specific bit of information on a page full of words and numbers. Or, to recognize an image when the background is intricate and complex.
Remediation: Practice with find the item challenges, such as “I Spy” or “Where is Waldo?” Use a bookmark or other item to cover up distracting information while reading. Highlight or underline useful information.
Visual Sequencing: This skill is exactly what it sounds like – the ability to understand the order of the words and images presented.
Symptoms of the disorder: Children who have trouble with visual sequencing will struggle with using a separate answer sheet, staying in the right place while reading a paragraph, and understanding math equations.
Remediation: A good way to help with sequencing is to combine reading with speaking aloud. In addition, color-coding written instructions will help children place sequences in order.
Visual Motor Processing: Using the visual information in order to coordinate physical movement is involved in this skill.
Symptoms of the disorder: Those with visual motor processing deficits will have a hard time:
* Writing within lines or margins of a piece of paper
* Copying from a board or book
* Moving around without bumping into things
Remediation: For children who struggle with visual motor processing disorder, a good way to aid their retention of information is to allow the use of a computer for writing or to substitute oral reports for written ones. While this remediation doesn’t allow them to practice these skills, they do allow the children to demonstrate their knowledge.
Visual Memory: Visual memory includes both long-term visual memory (the ability to recall something seen a long time ago) and short-term visual memory (the ability to recall something seen very recently).
Symptoms of the disorder: Children will have a hard time remembering the correct spelling of words with irregular spelling and will regularly forget phone numbers.
Remediation: Handouts with clear writing, accompanied by oral instructions can be very helpful to those children who struggle with visual memory.
The most important thing to remember when dealing with children who have visual processing disorders is that this is not something that will be solved if the child simply “looked more closely.” People who have visual processing disorders simply see “differently” than the rest of us. It’s our task to aid them in their learning process by providing assistance in order to make the world a clearer, more comprehensible place.