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.

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