Visual Processing Disorders Often Go Undetected in Children

Dr. Philip Nicholson’s Visual Learning Center 
provides developmental optometry and vision therapy
in Olney, MD and the surrounding Silver Spring area.

A visual processing disorder is a type of perceptual deficiency that hinders a child’s ability to make sense of information that they take in through their eyes. When a child has a visual processing disorder, they may see clearly and their eyes may function normally, but they are not able to efficiently or effectively interpret, categorize, remember, or associate meaning with the images and information in their brain.

It’s the brain, not the eyes, that associates meaning with images, symbols, text, and spatial dimensions or distance. Typical vision exams usually only test for clarity and sharpness of vision.  Even with 20/20 eyesight, there can be a weakness in visual processing that interferes with learning and other functions.

Warning signs and symptoms of visual processing disorders include:

Difficulty reading, complaints of tiredness while reading, losing place or skipping words while reading:

Visual processing disorders can cause children to mix up the order of words and letters, reverse letters, or have poor visual memory, which affects comprehension and leads to confusion and frustration.

Trouble with math or inability to make progress in math:

If a child has a visual processing disorder, you may first notice that they have trouble remembering numbers, such as their phone number or address. They may copy down the wrong numbers from the board or from an equation. They may also confuse math symbols or have difficulty distinguishing the order and meaning of symbols in an equation.

Messy handwriting, difficulty buttoning or zipping clothes, trouble cutting food or using scissors:

In these cases, the child may be experiencing a visual processing problem related to their visual-motor skills and fine motor skills, meaning they are having difficulty coordinating what they see with their associated body movements to accomplish tasks.

Types of visual processing disorders include issues with:

Visual sequencing: the ability to tell the correct order of words, symbols, or images

Visual figure-ground discrimination: the ability to distinguish a shape or text from the background in which it’s situated

Visual closure: the ability to identify an object from its parts. For example, the child might not be able to identify a cat missing a tail, a car missing wheels, or a word missing letters, which interferes with reading and spelling.

Visual discrimination: the ability to recognize the difference between similar shapes, objects, or letters, such as p and q or b and d

Visual spatial processing: the ability to tell distance or space of an object, either physically or on paper. This also affects understanding of time and narrative, which interferes with comprehension.

Visual memory: the ability to recall what they’ve seen or read, which could occur either in the short-term or long-term. This interferes with reading, comprehension, and spelling, as well as using a keyboard or calculator.

Visual-motor processing: the ability to use what you see with your eyes to coordinate movement in the rest of your body. This interferes with writing, drawing, cutting, tasks that require hand-eye coordination, and sports.

Much of what we learn and do requires efficient and effective visual processing. If there is not a problem, these visual processing skills are easily taken for granted in a normal, healthy, functioning visual system.

If a child has a visual processing disorder, however, it can cause many problems in school with learning, in social situations, and with self-esteem. A large percentage of children who have trouble in school have some sort of processing disorder, including visual processing.

The good news is, intensive vision therapy treatment can improve visual processing skills and even cure visual processing deficiencies.

If you suspect your child could have a visual processing disorder, schedule a comprehensive vision exam with a developmental optometrist who specializes in functional vision care.

For an exam to detect possible visual processing disorders and vision therapy in Onley, Maryland and Silver Spring, contact The Visual Learning Center today.

Register for an upcoming webinar here.

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