Monthly Archives: August 2014

visual memory disorder

Visual Memory: Why Do Some Children Struggle to Remember Something They Just Learned?

Do any of the following scenarios sound familiar?

  • Your son studied for his spelling test. You drilled and quizzed him the night before, and he seemed to know his words; but his grade was much lower than you expected. He’s a smart kid, but his poor spelling is an ongoing challenge.
  • Your daughter learned to read a new word on page 5 of her book; but by page 25, she doesn’t even recognize the same word and struggles to read it all over again.
  • Your child can’t seem to remember his own phone number or address. He forgets details he’s read and can’t recall the order of events. You’re frustrated that he keeps forgetting things, and you’re starting to wonder if he’s ignoring important information out of carelessness.
  • Your kid has difficulty using a keyboard or calculator. Kids these days are whizzes at typing and texting, but she slowly hunts for each letter, number, and character.

Each of these behaviors could possibly indicate that your child has a visual processing problem — specifically, a visual memory disorder.

Visual memory is the ability to look at something, create a mental image for that thing, and hold that picture in your mind for later recall and use. In learning to read, a child must look at a word, recognize and recall individual letters and strings of letters, create a mental image for that word and associate it with a meaning, and hold that word picture in mind to see and retrieve later.

For children with strong visual memory skills, this process happens efficiently and without strained effort. If a child has a visual memory deficiency, however, the process is a struggle and affects the ability to learn easily.

Eighty percent of what we learn is visual; so being able to visually picture and remember what we see is a critical component of learning.

Discover more about how vision affects learning by watching this video for parents.

If a child has difficulty processing and storing visual information in his short-term memory, he will not be able to recall that information in his longer-term memory for later use. If he wasn’t able to properly input and store the mental image of his spelling word the night before, he is not going to recall and spell it correctly on his test the following day.

Strong visual memory is a critical skill for word recognition and reading comprehension. You may not have considered this before, but each word has its own unique shape — its own form, which we capture in a mental image — that we must instantaneously recognize while reading.

A student with a healthy visual memory function will be able to learn and recall a new word after being exposed to that word one time, or a few times. A student with a visual memory disorder has to be exposed to a word repeatedly, many times, before retaining it. They’re no less intelligent than their peers; they simply aren’t creating and retaining the mental image due to a skills deficiency.

When we read, we put words and phrases together with visual images to conceptualize meaning. If we can see pictures in our mind and form a clear mental image of what’s taking place in the text as we’re reading, it enables us to comprehend.

Once the visual information is taken in through the eyes, the process of comprehension has only just begun. Next, the brain runs the information through the process of visual perception to extract the information and use it.

Visual memory is what enables a child to recognize and remember letters, words, and their meaning. Recognizing, remembering, and applying information quickly and easily is critical for performance in reading comprehension, and student must have a healthy visual memory for ease of comprehension.

Poor visual memory is also a common cause for letter reversals. A student with a visual memory problem will be more likely than his peers to continue reversing letters, such as b and d or p and q, because they may recall the shape but not the correct laterality or directionality.

A typical routine eye exam will not detect a deficiency in visual memory. If you suspect a visual memory problem, schedule a comprehensive functional vision exam with an optometrist who specializes in functional or developmental vision care is trained to test for a visual memory.

Without well-developed visual memory skills children will struggle to learn. The good news is an individualized vision therapy program can improve visual memory skills significantly. In vision therapy, children complete activities created to enhance their memory so they can recall the visual information they take in more readily. Click here for vision therapy success stories.

If your family is located in Olney or Silver Spring, Maryland, contact Dr, Philip Nicholson’s Visual Learning Center to schedule a comprehensive vision exam today.

learning-related vision problems

My Child Learned to Read in Kindergarten But Now Reads Below Grade Level: What Happened?

One of the biggest points of concern and confusion that parents have when they come to us is that they know their child is bright, but he or she is struggling in school. We often hear from parents who say their child had no trouble at all learning to read in Kindergarten, but by third or fourth grade the child has fallen far behind grade level performance expectations.

One common, but often-overlooked, cause for reading problems that develop later in development could be a learning-related vision problem.

When your child first learns basic reading skills, they learn ABCs one letter at a time, often in large, bold, colorful, and even tactile forms. Then they begin reading simple sentences in picture books with large spacious text. Their school books and worksheets all contain large text with lots of space, both to accommodate children’s fine motor skills and to ease them into the reading process.

But by third or fourth grade, reading and close work takes up a significantly greater amount of time in the classroom and during homework; and the text print on book pages and worksheets is much smaller than when they were first introduced to reading. Students in third grade and beyond are also required to copy from the board throughout the day. And all of these seemingly reasonable requirements can be extremely challenging for a child with a vision problem.

Learn more about how vision affects learning by watching this webinar for parents.

Large text and space is easy on the eyes. Reading one letter at a time, or a short sentence surrounded by lots of white space is not difficult for children with learning-related vision problems. Likewise, these children can pass a typical eye exam or school vision screening, one letter or short word at a time.

But most eye exams do not test for functional vision problems that interfere with reading. A typical eye exam only tests to determine if your child can see clearly at a distance for a period long enough to complete the exam, not eye movement and visual processing problems that may affect your child’s ability to read for a sustained period of time.

A typical vision screening doesn’t check into how well the eyes work together as a team, how quickly the eyes focus when moving from one visual plane to another, how smoothly the eyes move across the page when reading, how efficiently the brain processes information taken in by the eyes, or a number of other areas of functional vision.


Reading requires the coordination of hundreds of eye muscles and steady oculomotor control. It also requires visualization, visual memory, and other skills for reading comprehension. If your child has an undeveloped vision skill, weakness, or deficiency, this can affect their ability to read.

Poor eye tracking, eye teaming, or focus leads to difficulty and frustration for a child, and the extra effort to take in visual information may cause fatigue, headaches, or the inability to maintain attention.


So, while reading large-print individual words and short sentences for a few minutes in Kindergarten or first grade was easy for your child, reading small-print paragraphs throughout the day can be overwhelming.

Initially, you and your child’s teacher might suspect he is is being careless, distracted, or choosing not to pay attention You might assume he’s skipping unfamiliar or challenging words, because he’s lazy or uninterested.

However, children with learning-related vision problems don’t understand that their vision is to blame. They often grow frustrated, their self-esteem suffers, and they fall behind.


That’s why it’s important that if your child is struggling with reading — particularly if they did not have trouble learning to read initially — that you find a developmental optometrist in your area who specializes in functional vision care. Schedule a comprehensive vision exam right away.

If your child’s reading troubles are related to vision, that’s actually good news. Because once he or she receives a proper diagnosis, a personalized and intensive vision therapy program can lead to significant lasting improvements in a relatively short period of time.

Click here for “10 Things You Need to Know About Vision”

If your family is located in Olney or Silver Spring, Maryland, contact Dr. Philp Nicholson’s Visual Learning Center to schedule a functional vision exam today.