Understanding Visual Processing Disorder

Sep 23, 2018 | 0 comments

The visual system is much more important than having the ability to see, having perfect 20/20 or sharp vision.  It is also understanding what you see and making appropriate decisions or actions accordingly.

Visual processing refers to that ability to make sense of information taken in through vision.  It involves cognitive processing or interpreting visual information in order to make sense of the world around us.

What does it mean to have a visual processing disorder?

A person with visual processing problems may have difficulties with:-

  • Difficulty discriminating the foreground from background (visual figure-ground discrimination).
  • Difficulty with recognising objects or symbols (visual discrimination).
  • Difficulty telling the order of symbols, words or images (visual sequencing).
  • Difficulty with body coordination stemming from vision (visual motor processing issues).
  • Difficulty with recalling what they have seen (visual memory).
  • Difficulty with telling where objects are in relation to each other (visual spatial issues).
  • Difficulty identifying an object when only parts of the object is visible (visual closure issues).


As you can see, the visual system is responsible for letter, number and shape recognition, spatial relationships, coordination, reading skills, focus and attention to detail – all activities and skills which are required for a child to improve developmentally.  Accordingly, it is important for any visual processing difficulties to be identified and addressed.

Visual tests may not necessarily identify a person has visual processing difficulties as the object of a visual test is to test vision, rather thanperson’s ability to process or interpret information taken in through vision.

Understanding visual processing disorder in children

Signs of visual processing difficulties can include:-

  • Avoids eye contact
  • Rubs their eyes
  • Bumps into objects
  • Sensitive to light
  • Easily distracted by stimuli in the room
  • Difficulty focusing on a singular task
  • Difficulty writing at the same size and spacing
  • Difficulty with tasks involving copying
  • Difficulty with puzzles
  • Difficulty differentiating similar letters or figures (e.g b and d or  p and q)
  • Difficulty locating items amongst other things (eg locating a sock within a laundry basket).
  • Reverses or substitutes letters when reading and writing
  • Skips words when reading or reads a sentence more than once
  • Difficulty controlling eye movement to track and follow moving objects

It is important to note that if you or your child displays these symptoms that it does not necessarily mean you have a visual processing difficulty, however you may have signs of such a difficulty and should consult a healthcare professional.

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Activities to develop visual skills

Visual processing disorder is not a recognised learning disability but can affect a child’s ability to engage in the learning environment.

A child that is highly distracted by visual stimuli would be assisted by removing distractions from the room to help them to retain focus.  To ensure they are listening and focused, you should maintain eye contact when communicating with them (for children not diagnosed with Autism).

A child that is visually under responsive may barely notice details and objects around him unless brought to his attention.  This child would benefit from visual stimulation like bright colours and posters in order to hold his attention or visual sequences and directions to keep on task.

Some activities you can do to develop visual skills include:-

  • Practice reading
  • Practice writing
  • Puzzles
  • Memory games using cards or objects
  • “I Spy”
  • Mazes
  • Colour by number
  • Connect the dots
  • Word searches
  • Visual scavenger hunts like “Where’s Wally?”


If you feel your child may have visual processing problems, we recommend that you visit your GP to determine whether any problems stem from visual acuity, or from visual processing, in the first instance.   What may be perceived as a visual processing problem may be an issue with vision which can be remedied with glasses.

If your child has decreased visual perception, an Occupational Therapist can undertake an evaluation to investigate the extent to which your child’s visual processing problems are impacting on their day-to-day life.  Following an evaluation, the Occupational therapist can create goals and set up a treatment plan which will involve various activities aimed to enhance visual perception.