There is much more involved in vision than just being able to see words or pictures. The brain must also coordinate eye movements so both eyes see the same thing at once, perform complex activities like interpreting forms and perceiving spatial relations, plus be able to identify different parts that make up a whole. These examples offer a clearer idea of how visual processing works. Each day, students are bombarded with complex visual data to sort out: images, numbers or words and so on. Children with a type of visual processing disorder have difficulty taking in all that imagery and making sense of it.

Schools check for vision acuity on a regular basis but may fail to consider specific processing challenges that affect learning. As an educator, you have the ability to identify visual processing disorders and help manage them to improve learning.

What is Visual Processing Disorder?

Visual processing disorder is an umbrella term for conditions that affect how the brain processes visual information. You can break these disorders down into different categories:

  • Form discrimination – Being able to tell the difference between a circle and a square, for example. This is critical in every aspect of learning. A child who can’t discern shapes won’t know an “A” from a “B” or the number “1” from “2”.
  • Size discrimination – Another essential for reading because often capital and lower case letters look the same
  • Spatial relations – This refers to the ability to perceive letters in their correct position. For example, this child may not see the letter “q” correctly because it dips lower than the other letters in the words. It may seem to float away from the line and be separate from the word.
  • Synthesis – This is the ability to see that different parts fit together to create something whole. Consider a drawing of a house. A child with this form of visual processing disorder may see squares that are windows, a rectangle that is a door and a triangle roof but will fail to visually combine them to see the house.
  • Analysis – Analysis is the reverse of synthesis. This child sees the house but not the individual shapes that make it up.
  • Visual closure – For most people, the brain has an uncanny ability to fill the holes and find closure. A sentence missing a definite article still comes together because the brain fills in that empty space. In some cases, the brain has limited ability to find that closure. The sentence missing a “the” fails to register as a sentence, for example, or a picture of a house without a door becomes unrecognizable.

How to Recognize Visual Processing Disorder?

Ultimately, the final diagnosis should come from a specialist, but teachers can look for clues of visual processing disorders such as:

  • Difficulty telling similar letters apart
  • Clumsiness
  • Trouble focusing on an assignment or on visual presentations
  • Difficulty writing words, sentences or stories (not age appropriate). The handwriting might be messy, with letters going off the lines or in the wrong place
  • Confuses math signs
  • Poor memory
  • Trouble researching
  • Seems to get lost in the material

Finding the right classroom tools can help. The See-N-Read® reading strip, for example, provides focal points for students as they read while blocking out unnecessary visual information while ColorTag can improve recall. Paper with raised lines aids students to improve their handwriting, as well.

Not every child who has a hard time reading has a visual processing disorder but, after you rule out the need for glasses, it’s time to look for other reasons they are struggling to comprehend. With proper evaluation and the right learning tools, students with visual processing challenges can learn and succeed.