Visual Perception Deficits

Let me guess…nobody can exactly figure out what the problem is. Your child just can’t seem to grasp the concept.  School is now a struggle and a challenge dreaded on daily basis in your household. You’ve done all you can do. You’ve talked to their teacher, doctor, maybe even went so far as to have an evaluation by a speech or occupational therapist. But they all said ‘your child seems to be functioning within the average range’…’there isn’t really anything we can do’.  Yet somehow your child just doesn’t seem to get it.

Chances are your child’s visual perception skills were overlooked.  Most people think of handwriting when it comes to occupational therapy.  Although that is definitely an area Occupational Therapy would address, there is more to the big picture.  Often when a child has difficulty in school, the first complaint is in the handwriting. “He’s too messy” or ”he’s too slow.”  ”She only writes some of the information and then gives up.” “She’s reversing numbers and letters.”  Well, maybe…just maybe…there is reason why those things are happening.  And the answer is NOT that your child is lazy.  Maybe there is a visual processing deficit that’s getting in the way of performing up to par in school. There are 3 key elements of visual perception development that play a major role in reading, writing, and functioning in school.

Visual Discrimination is the most commonly used skill and develops at a very early age. This is simply the ability to notice similarities and differences between objects.  Sounds simple enough right? Well, sometimes this skill isn’t as polished as it should be, or COULD be.  When there is a deficit in this area, red flags start going off. Suddenly “b” and “d” look a lot alike.  Circles and ovals are both round.  The subtle difference in length is really hard to notice unless it’s pointed out…again.  When someone with a visual discrimination deficit is reading passages, there are often gaps of whole words or lines.  There are also times when random words are inserted that aren’t written in the text they are reading.  When someone is unable to discriminate what line they are reading or hold their place very well, it’s  extremely difficult to absorb what they are reading let alone understand it and truly learn from it.  Would you want to be tested on information you were reading if you were learning to read Chinese?  It wouldn’t be fair to test you on what you were reading because you are spending all of your TIME and ATTENTION on how to read it.  Reading English with a visual discrimination deficit isn’t much different. 

Visual Memory is the next skill to develop and usually comes along whether visual discrimination is fully developed or not.   Visual memory is simply the ability to see something, and recall it.  This becomes critical when

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 writing is involved,  especially when you’re writing without a model in front of you.  When you write a letter, a word, a paragraph, short story…whatever…there are a lot of skills you are using all at once.  Visual memory is needed the most in these situations.  If there is a deficit in the ability to hold an accurate picture of what the letter “q” actually looks like, you are never going to be able to write the word “quack” even though you know “u-a-c and k”. Not without a potential meltdown, frustration, embarrassment, and of course the pressure of someone standing over you saying, “Write q”, come on you know what a ‘q’ looks like, write q”.  Now imagine if there is a visual discrimination deficit along with the visual memory deficit. FRUSTRATING!!

Visual Sequential Memory is a more advanced version of visual memory.  This is simply the ability to recall multiple things in their proper order.  Someone with a visual sequential memory deficit often can read the word “quack”, tell you what each letter is and write the word beautifully if you spell it for them letter by letter.  Sometimes they can even write a short word if their pencil is ready to go and they quickly write it right after you say it.  But if you wait even a minute, sometimes as little as 30 seconds, they lack the ability to spell it back accurately or write it down using the correct letters in the correct order.  Now I know this is a common occurrence with spelling words.  Especially on Thursday night when you are helping your child cram for the test tomorrow.  This is not necessarily a visual sequential memory deficit.  What you may be witnessing is the transition between short term and long term memory.  Very normal. True visual sequential memory deficits are seen in many more areas then just one.  Severe cases are often to blame for difficulty copying notes from the board.  The inability to hold the information you read from the board long enough to write it down on your paper can sometimes be attributed to a lack of visual sequential memory.  Not lack of trying.  Visual perception skills are often used in conjunction with fine motor skills (writing or drawing).  But they are a completely different set of skills.  Motor skills can develop to be age appropriate while visual perception skills lag behind. There are ways to strengthen these skills.

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There are programs to assist with increasing neurological potential resulting in increased visual perception skill development.

How is your visual perception?

What is this a picture of?