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Educators & Students with Learning Disabilities: Visual Processing Disorders

Useful for elementary and secondary administrators, librarians, classroom teachers, and parents and students with Learning Disabilities


Visual Processing Disorders

This neurological disorder results in misunderstanding the information that is taken in through the eyes. It is not a vision problem involving sight or sharpness of visiion--it is the difficulty of processing the visual information by the brain. Students with Visual Processing Disorders will have these types of conflicts: 

  • Spatial relations. These students who have difficulty discriminating space will have a great deal of difficulty learning to read and perform math--not sensing the spacing between letters or sentences or columns.
  • Visual discrimination. To be able to see the similarities and differences in objects and to see an object as distinct from its background. Color, size, shape, pattern, and position of objects are confused.
  • Visual closure. To be able to identify or recognize an object when it is not entirely in view.
  • Object recognition. Many children are unable to visually recognize objects which are familiar to them, or even objects which they can recognize through their other senses, such as touch or smell. Or they are "recognized" one day and not the next.
  • Whole-part realationships. Some children are only able to see the pieces and not the whole, while others are the opposite, only see the whole picture and not the individual parts. Similarly, they may recognize letters and their sounds individually but not be able to put them together into a whole, a word. The others will only see the word and not the individual letters.
  • Interaction with other areas of developmentThis often includes the child's understanding of theirselves in space, and the distance between objects, so that their gross and fine motor skills are always "off."  They may miss their seat when attempting to sit down, run into trash cans, and generally appear clumbsy. This can interfere with virtually all areas of the child's life: social, academic, athletic, pragmatic. Difficulty withfine motor integration effects a child's writing, organization on paper, and ability to transition between a worksheet or keyboard and other necessary information which is in a book, on a number line, graph, chart, or computer screen.

From LDonline: Visual & Auditory Processing Disorder


Signs of Visual Processing Disorders

There are many ways the brain processes visual information. Weaknesses in a particular kind of visual processing can often be seen in specific difficulties with practical, everyday tasks.

Visual Discrimination

The Skill -- using the sense of sight to notice and compare the features of different items to distinguish one from another

Difficulties observed:

  • Seeing the difference between two similar letters, shapes, or objects
  • Noticing the similarities and differences between certain colors, shapes, and patterns

Visual Figure-Ground Discrimination

The Skill -- discriminating a shape or printed character from its background

Difficulties observed:

  • Finding a specific bit of information on a printed page full of words and numbers
  • Seeing an image within a competing background

Visual Sequencing

The Skill -- the ability to see and distinguish the order of symbols, words, or images

Difficulties observed:

  • Using a separate answer sheet
  • Staying in the right place while reading a paragraph. Ex: skipping lines, reading the same line over and over
  • Reversing or misreading letters, numbers, and words
  • Understanding math equations

Visual Motor Processing

The Skill --  using feedback from the eyes to coordinate the movement of other parts of the body

Difficulties observed:

  • Writing within lines or margins of a piece of paper
  • Copying from a board or book
  • Moving around without bumping into things
  • Participating in sports that require well-timed and precise movements in space

Visual Memory

The Skill -- there are two kinds of visual memory

  • Long-term visual memory is the ability to recall something seen some time ago
  • Short-term visual memory is the ability to remember something seen very recently

Difficulties observed:

  • Remembering the spelling of familiar words or irregular spelling
  • Reading comprehension
  • Using a calculator or keyboard with speed and accuracy
  • Remembering phone numbers

Visual Closure

The Skill -- the ability to know what an object is when only parts of it are visible

Difficulties observed:

  • Recognizing a picture of a familiar object from a partial image. Ex: a truck without its wheels
  • Identifying a word with a letter missing
  • Recognizing a face when one feature (such as a nose) is missing

Spatial Relationships

The Skill -- the ability to understand how objects are positioned in space in relation to oneself. This involves the understanding of distance near or far), as well as the relationship of objects and characters described on paper or in a spoken narrative.

Difficulties observed:

  • Getting from one place to another
  • Spacing letters and words on paper
  • Judging time
  • Reading maps

 From NCLD Visual Processing Issues

VPD Accommodations & Resources

VPD Accommodations & Resources


  • Avoid grading handwriting
  • Allow students to dictate creative stories
  • Provide alternative for written assignments
  • Suggest use of pencil grips and specially designed pencils and pens
  • Allow use of computer or word processor
  • Restrict copying tasks
  • Provide tracking tools: ruler, text windows
  • Use large print books
  • Plan to order or check out books on tape
  • Experiment with different paper types: pastels, graph, embossed raised line paper

Excerpted from the LDA of California and UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute "Q.U.I.L.T.S." Calendar 2001-2002