When it comes to the eyes and vision there are three main categories that effect learning. The first is visual pathway integrity which includes eye health, visual acuity, and refractive status. The second is visual or oculomotor skills which include accommodation (eye focusing), binocular vision (eye teaming), and eye movements (eye tracking). Third is visual information processing, sometimes called visual perceptual processing, which includes identification, discrimination, spatial awareness, and the integration with our other senses.
Signs of Possible Visual Processing Problems
- ✔ Reverses or misreads letters, numbers, or words
- ✔ Clumsy or bumps into things
- ✔ Has difficulty writing within lines
- ✔ Can’t remember phone numbers
- ✔ Skips words or entire lines when reading, or reads the same sentence over
- ✔ Complains of eye strain, or frequently rubs eyes
- ✔ Confuses math symbols or omits steps
- ✔ Difficulty remembering what letters or objects look like
- ✔ Trouble copying from the whiteboard to paper
- ✔ Difficulty with concepts such as “up”, “down”, “left”, “right”, “above”
- ✔ Confuses capital and lower case letters
- ✔ Tends to dislike or avoid reading
- ✔ Trouble finding a pencil in a messy desk
- ✔ Slow reading speed
- ✔ Eyes water when reading, on a computer, or video game
- ✔ Poor written work
- ✔ Becomes very tired or sleepy when reading, or right after
- ✔ Trouble with math problems written horizontally instead of vertically
- ✔ Less ability to observe and react to facial expressions
- ✔ Dyslexic tendencies
- ✔ Unable to recognize the same word from sentence to sentence
Visual processing problems are not identified by a standard vision screening in schools nor a typical eye examination. This is because a visual processing problem does not have anything to do with how well your child can see. It has to do with how the eyes are working together in cooperation, and how the brain processes visual images.
Visual related problems are not just about the eyes but can also be linked to language processing, sensory processing, or memory processing deficits occurring together. The beginnings of our visual system’s development occur in the womb at just about the same time as our vestibular system (balance mechanism) and are integrated and dependent on one another for feedback. What we see are images created in our brain using a complex neural pathway system.
Difficulties with visual processing affect how visual information is interpreted or processed by the brain. Visual information processing is the brain’s ability to make sense of what the eyes see and interpret the visual information. This is not the same as the term visual acuities, which means how clearly a person sees, such as “20/20 vision”. A person can have 20/20 vision and still have problems with visual processing skills.
Oculomotor problems occur when the six muscles of the eyes are unable to work together correctly, resulting in uncoordinated eye movements, difficulty tracking in a smooth motion across a page, and trouble holding convergence on words while reading. When the eyes do not converge, each eye may see separate images, which will result in squinting, or a weak eye (sometimes called a lazy eye). This will affect focus and comprehension.
Not only may the eyes have trouble working together to coordinate efforts, a student may see an object but have trouble finding the words for the object they see. In some cases, the child may be looking right at an item they are looking for and cannot find it. For some, their brains are not processing the image correctly while others may be relying on their peripheral (side) vision.
Visual processing skills impact the ability to learn.
Good visual processing skills are needed for reading, writing, spelling, handwriting, drawing, and math. The easier it is to perceive information around us, the easier our thinking process becomes. Visual processing issues are not a recognized learning disability on their own, but the symptoms often appear in kids with learning issues, including dyslexia which is the most common learning issue.
A child who has problems with visual information processing might have difficulties working with puzzles, copying block designs, copying from the whiteboard, visualizing objects, or discriminating shapes or letters. They may also have difficulty integrating visual information with other senses to ride a bike or catch a ball.
Visual information processing is subdivided into categories and includes:
- ✔Visual Discrimination
- ✔Visual Memory
- ✔Visual Spatial Relationships
- ✔Visual Form Constancy
- ✔Visual-Sequential Memory
- ✔Visual Ground Figure
- ✔Visual Closure
- ✔Visual Motor
What can be done about visual processing problems?
A good program will address the developmental skills necessary to be successful in both reading, writing, and other academic areas. The program should increase control of oculomotor skills such as eye teaming, convergence, tracking, and saccades. Using an inside-out approach of addressing un-integrated reflexes that lay the foundation for the eyes’ ability to move in a fluid and coordinated effort and outside-in techniques such as iLs or vision therapy to stimulate and exercise the muscles of the eyes to improve academic performance.
When visual information is perceived or processed incorrectly, it cannot be matched or integrated with our other senses. Instead of reinforcing learning experiences, it distracts and interferes. If what is seen cannot be “trusted”, it hinders the ability to learn. Poor visual information processing is not something a student “outgrows”. If undiagnosed or left untreated, the student with poor visual information processing will continue to fall behind in class even though it may appear they are working harder than other students in the same class.
In our educational program, we integrate visual motor (creating a link between what is seen and movement), planning (the ability to be able to place letters on a page in a row in the proper location), perception (the skills to predict what needs to be done next), spatial relationships (the ability to make letters similar in size and place them on the line), kinesthetic skills (experiencing and controlling muscle movement), size awareness (letter and number size), and address vertical and horizontal reversals (letter flipping and writing letters from bottom to top). A variety of activities are used that include kinesthetic and visual-motor that make use of a balance board, bean bags, white board, paper/pencil, grip remediation, geo-boards, manipulates, and clay.
Without an appropriate assessment, it can be difficult to determine what intervention is needed to address visual processing issues. Good sources for remediation are developmental optometrists and educational therapists.
The Learning Skills Pyramid is the foundation of successful remediation. If you focus on just parts of the problem, therapy will not always bring about the desired results. You’ll be left with missing pieces in your program. And that’s where HOLS comes in. In order to identify the contributing factors, a Functional Academic and Learning Skills Evaluation must be administered to determine the source of the missing pieces. Only then can a comprehensive program be designed that will address your child’s weaknesses in developmental order.