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Visual Processing Explained


Reading struggles and lack of classroom attention are often blamed on a student’s inability to see the blackboard or need for reading glasses. While annual vision exams are important in childhood to measure visual acuity and ensure that students can see with clarity, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to learning and visual processing.

Visual Processing Disorder is a common cause of learning differences and understanding the fundamentals of visual perception can help to address the cause. Visual processing can be broken down into several components, all of which play an important role in a student’s visual perception and ability to learn. 

Visual Discrimination

Defined as the ability to detect differences in visual images, visual discrimination is an important skill for reading, writing, mathematics and social interactions. If a child has trouble recognizing subtle differences visually, it can lead to confusion between letters and words like “was” and “saw.” Matching games and “Spot the Difference” games are a great way to strengthen this visual skill.

Visual Memory

Children who struggle with comprehension often have issues related to visual memory. Visual memory allows for the immediate recall of the characteristics of a form. If a child can’t recall a sight word from one page to the next or a student has difficulty copying information from the board to his or her paper, it’s often a sign that visual memory is impaired. Concentration or memory games are good ways to strengthen visual memory skills.

Visual Form Constancy

Learning activities like tanagrams test a student’s ability to perceive form constancy. It refers to the ability to mentally turn or rotate objects or resize a form in the mind in order to match a picture.

Visual Sequential Memory

Remembering listed items in the correct sequence is essential for both spelling a reading. If a child struggles to remember the order of letters, numbers or shapes in a series, activities like reassembling comic strips in order or connecting the dots using letters or numbers may help.

Visual Figure-Ground

Anyone who excels at the “Where’s Waldo” books has strong visual figure-ground perception skills. The ability to distinguish an object from its background helps with reading skills. If a child struggles in this area, they are likely to get overwhelmed by a page with a lot of words. Seek and find or iSpy games like “Spot It” or jigsaw puzzles will help to strengthen this skill.

Visual Closure

Being able to visualize the complete whole when given incomplete information refers to visual closure. This skill is important for reading fluency as it prevents having to process every letter in every word and instead recognize a word by sight. Visual closure activities include word sliders, jigsaw puzzles and paint by numbers.

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