Visual perceptual processing, or visual information processing,
is a set of skills we use to gather visual information from the environment and
integrate them with our other senses. This is done while incorporating all the
integrated information with other things, such as past experiences, motivation
and development, so that we can derive understanding and meaning from what we
are experiencing. This process allows the development of schemes to derive meaning from what we see.
Visual perceptual processing is very important, but especially
so when learning. Without visual perceptual processing, you would not be able
to accurately learn to read, give or get directions, copy from the board or
from a book, visualize objects or past experiences, remember things visually,
have good eye-and coordination, integrate visual information with our other
senses to do things like ride a bike, play ball, or hear a sound and be able
to visually recognize where it is coming from (like an ambulance), just to name
Visual perceptual processing can be broken into three components
- visual spatial skills, visual analysis skills and visual integration skills.
Just like anything else that is broken into components, these
skills work together or build upon each other to help you function.
Visual Spatial Skills
These are the skills we use to understand directional concepts to organize
our visual space. This is how we visually project our body coordinates out into
For example: When you say, "It is over to the left," the "to
the left" has no meaning unless it has a point of reference. So actually,
you are really saying to the left of where YOU are. If you don't know where
your body is, it is hard to know where things are in relation to you.
Visual spatial skills require observing an object, then accurately reporting
its relationship in space relative to your own self.
Signs & Symptoms of Visual-Spatial Dysfunction
Lack of coordination and balance (clumsy)
Difficulty learning left and right
Reverses letters or numbers when writing or copying
Difficulty with activities involving rhythm
Not good at sports
Does not cross the midline when doing tasks (switches objects
from hand to hand)
Does not use nondominant hand for support when writing or copying
Rotates body when writing or copying (again to not cross the midline)
Laterality is an internal self awareness of two body sides and knowing they
are different. It requires good balance, vestibular function and an awareness
of a body midline (an invisible line that divides your body in half).
FACT: During a study at the Southern California
College of Optometry, 73.8% of children
already determined to have a learning disability failed tests used to assess
laterality and directionality.
Some behaviors observed in kids that have not developed laterality are the
Nondominant hand not used for support
Switches hands so they do not cross the midline of their body with them
Rotates body (again so as not to cross over the midline)
These tendencies happen in all young kids, but if confusion with laterality
occurs after 8 years old, it can potentially cause problems.
Laterality eventually evolves into directionality.
A person must understand laterality on their person before it can be applied
in space. This means if you do not know the two sides of your body (left and
right), how can you know what to call the two sides of the room? We always learn
how to judge where things are by first learning how to relate it to ourselves.
When you start applying left and right concepts to your external visual space,
you are beginning to learn directionality.
Directionality incorporates up, down, ahead, behind, and any combination thereof
into the equation. It also means projecting these directions including left
and right out into space. Again, a person must understand these concepts as
they relate to themselves before they can apply them to other things.
Directionality is very important in decoding letters.
If you don't have this concept down, learning to read can be very confusing.
For example, the letters "b," "d," "p," and "q,"
all look like the same symbol if you do not have any concept of orientation.
FACT: Research has shown that children
who still have reversal problems after age 8 will likely have problems developing good reading skills.
These skills, however, can be trained. For more information on how, click here.
Reversals can also come from having a general language dysfunction. This is
more commonly seen when they have problems with reversing entire words. See
your eye doctor to really know if visual skills are the problem if you suspect
your child of directionality issues.
An important function that bridges laterality and directionality
is our eyes.
eye movement skills are essential in developing good directionality skills.
If your eyes cannot move across a page smoothly and accurately, this could mean
that you are at risk for reversals and coding problems, because how we scan
a letter is important when coding it to the brain.
Bilateral integration is another visual spatial skill that is important. This
is the ability to effectively use both sides of the body separately (like typing)
and/or simultaneously (like riding a bicycle).
Very young children will use only one side at a time until they learn this
skill. This is a normal part of development. However, if a child is still exhibiting
this behavior after third grade, this may signify a problem with visual spatial
Watch a young child draw or color. Crayons on the left stay on the left and
are manipulated by the left hand and vice versa. If they want something on their
right to use on the left side, they will pick up the crayon in the right hand,
then pass it to their other hand rather than cross over the midline of their
With proper development the left and right side should begin to enhance each
other's function, for example the right hand may stabilize a piece of paper
while the left hand draws. Another integration skill you can observe is moving
one foot ahead of the other when walking, while at the same time swinging contralateral
arms as the foot comes forward, for example the right foot and the left arm,
then the left foot and right arm.
This skill cannot be developed fully unless laterality is learned well, too.
If you do not have the concept of the difference between both sides of your
body, it is very difficult to learn how to coordinate them.
Visual Analysis Skills
Visual analysis, or visual discrimination, is used to identify, sort, organize,
store and recall visually presented information. It is the ability to take in
visual information remember it and apply it later.
with poor visual analysis skills often have trouble learning the A, B, C's and
recognizing words or simple forms even when presented repeatedly; for example,
they may correctly read the word "house" in one sentence and incorrectly read
"horse" two lines later. These kids tend to mistake words with similar endings
or beginnings, generalize when grouping objects. They also have a hard time
understanding size and magnitude, (a cup of water in a tall glass and a cup
of water in a shallow bowl are not seen as equal amounts).
Signs & Symptoms of Visual-Analysis Dysfunction
Trouble learning the alphabet
Trouble recognizing words
Mistakes words with similar beginnings
Overgeneralizes - confuses minor likenesses and differences
Does not recognize the same word if repeated again on a page
Trouble with remembering and writing letters and numbers
Short attention span
Traces or touches figures
Difficulty with understanding instructions
Hyper or hypo active
Subskills of Visual Analysis
Figure Ground: An ability to attend to or search for a
specific form or feature while simultaneously ignoring irrelevant information.
Example: Looking for a specific piece of information when reading or searching
for a specific tool in a toolbox full of tools.
Activity: Where is Waldo?, Hidden Pictures
In this big picture find the duckling, hammer, ladybug, handbell, flag,
arrow, sailboat, cup, baseball bat, nail, needle, vase, clothespin, and snail.
Can you find these Hidden Pictures?
Check out the magazine Highlights for more interactive hidden picture games.
Visual Form Recognition/Discrimination & Constancy: The ability
to discriminate differences in forms. This includes differences of size, shape,
color and orientation. Recognition that visual information in a form is consistent
in spite of the object, size in the back of the eye, or location.
Example: DOG = dog = Dog, or that a cup of water is a cup of water whether
in a tall glass or shallow bowl.
Activity: Parquetry Blocks, Tetris
Use your arrow keys to manipulate the shapes below. Up arrow will change the way the blocks are oriented.
Visualization: Ability to recall a previously viewed image or object
and mentally manipulate the image from various aspects.
Example: Seeing a flattened box and being able to mentally reconstruct it and
picture the dimensions to decide if the object you want to put in the box will
Activity: Pegboard, Tangoes
Visual Speed & Span of Perception: The rate and amount at which information
is being handled in visual processing.
Example: Quickly and efficiently copying an assignment off the chalkboard with
only a few glances vs. needing to glance at the chalkboard after every one to
two words or bits of information is copied.
Activity: Speed Stackers
To see Steven Purugganan set a new cycle world record of 6.21 seconds at the Denver Coliseum in the 2008 WSSA World Championships in Denver, CO, click here
Once all of these skills are developed, it is important for them to become
automatic so they take up less brain power to use. Just like learning to drive
a car with a manual transmission. At first, it takes a lot of brain power to
get your feet to move the right way and for you to time it with what your hand
does with the stick shift. Not only are you learning a new skill, but you also
have to make sure you pay attention to the road and steer accordingly. Once
you get the hang of it, the ability to shift gears became automatic and you
can devote that brain power to eating a Big Mac and talking on the cell phone
along with everything else (not recommended, by the way). In order to have efficient
visual information processing skills, you have to learn the skills well to the
point where they become easy.