What are visual processing disorders? According to ld.online.org, which bills itself as “The educators’ guide to learning disabilities and ADHD”: “A visual processing, or perceptual, disorder refers to a hindered ability to make sense of information taken in through the eyes. This is different from problems involving sight or sharpness of vision. Difficulties with visual processing affect how visual information is interpreted, or processed by the brain.”
Probably the most well-known visual processing disorder is dyslexia, but dyslexia is by no means the only way that visual processing can be impaired. According to understood.org there are eight different types of visual processing issues, which result in a number of different ways that visual processing can affect how you learn at school. Our educational system is heavily dependent upon the ability to process large amounts of visual information throughout the day. Reading and writing can be severely impacted by difficulties with visual processing. Suspect a visual processing disorder if you see any of the following in your child:
- Visual word memory problems
- Frequent word or line skips
- Tendency to move the whole head to read instead of just the eyes
- Difficulties with automatic sight-word recognition
- Double vision, squinting or closing or rubbing one eye
- Complaints of blurring or letters moving around, popping in and out of the paper
- The letters in words are not in sequence
- Letter and symbol reversal problems past the age of seven
- Contrast sensitivity problems
- Glare from the paper and fluorescent lights
- Difficulties making out the letters
I first encountered visual processing disorders in my childhood. My first recollection was having to ride my bike in elementary school to the eye doctor’s. Once there I had to stare into this machine and exercise my eyes by putting lines, shapes and pictures together. At the time I had no idea why I had to do this, I just did it. I now understand why. I had a visual processing disorder. I do not know how much this helped me, but I do know that it took me much longer to learn things than a lot of my friends. My mother also had me take a summer course in reading comprehension.
When I graduated from college, I enrolled in a medical terminology course as part of a certificate course in Medical Assisting. This course involved typing medical reports. Many times my teacher would tell me I needed to type my report over because I would miss a whole paragraph as I was typing the report from a book. She told me to go to the eye doctor. I did, and the eye doctor told me my eyes were fine. Unfortunately, this was a regular eye doctor who had no background in vision processing. In order to screen for visual processing issues you need to find an optometrist who has a certification in behavioral or developmental vision care by the College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD). You can find one at www.covd.org.
Fast forward to my youngest child’s neuropsychological evaluation in middle school. The neuropsychologist diagnosed her with PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder – not otherwise specified). Among the recommendations we were given was seeing a specialist in visual processing disorders. We did vision therapy , including many home exercises, as long as we could, but it was an hour’s drive to get there and my daughter was anything but cooperative for these trips. Those days it was very difficult to get her in the car. She was always very tired. But one thing that did improve was she could now tell her left from her right.
In high school, I had her tested again by another local COVD optometrist and found out she was low in every category except one. We did not follow through on treatment with this doctor because her policy included being charged for a visit even if you did not come, and with my daughter’s uncooperative history I did not see this as a good fit for us. I found another local COVD optometrist that we began vision processing therapy with. This time we were also given daily exercises to do on the computer in addition to coming once every other week for a half-hour. I believe the home computer exercises were the most helpful. I would highly recommend finding a home program. At one point, I found out I was paying the $80/half hour (not covered by insurance) for the vision therapist to play Scrabble with her. Soon after, I ended this “therapy.” Buyer beware.
Knowing what I know now, I understand why my daughter was not able to pass the standardized state tests since fourth grade. Visual processing disorders can cause you to bubble the wrong circles on standardized tests that involve the use of a Scantron. Can you imagine the effect that could have on whether or not your child goes to college? Not to mention where your child goes to college? Getting the accommodation of a reader and extra time is crucial for these kids on their college entrance exams. My daughter went from an ACT score of 14 with no accommodations to a score of 21 with a reader. I believe many children will need a reader for ALL testing. I was the first one to get this accommodation in our high school, which makes me very sad because one out of four kids today have visual processing disorders!
I have been a substitute teacher in my county for the past seven years, and to my knowledge the schools are not testing for visual processing disorders. I often ask the kids in my classes if they like to read, and many times only half the hands go up. I then ask the kids if they fall asleep or have eyes that water or burn when they read, and again many hands go up. These kids are put in intensive reading classes many times, forfeiting their music, art and theater classes, which are very often their strengths.
Reading is crucial to your child’s education. If your child is struggling with reading, please go to covd.org and see if visual processing is an issue. Correcting and compensating for visual processing can make a huge difference in your child’s ability to learn. Your smart kids deserve to learn and discover their passion!