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Visual Processing

Visual processing is the procedure the brain goes through when we receive information, process it, associate it with something already experienced or learned, then recall/retrieve that information, and express it. Students with visual processing disorders struggle with some of the steps in this process.

What is It?

computer scan of a human brain

There are many different ways that the brain can process visual information. It is important to remember that many people without any type of visual processing disorder experience problems with learning and behavior occasionally, but if a person is consistently displaying difficulty with certain kinds of tasks over time, testing for visual processing disorders should be considered. There are many different types of visual processing. These include:

Visual Discrimination: Using sight to notice and compare features of different items to distinguish one from the other.

Visual Figure-Ground Discrimination: The ability to discern between a shape and printed character from its background.

Visual Sequencing: The ability to see and distinguish the order of symbols, words, or images.

Visual Motor Processing: Using feedback from the eyes to coordinate movement of other parts of the body.

Visual Memory: There is both long-term and short-term visual memory. Long-term is the ability to recall something seen a long time ago. Short-term is the ability to remember something seen recently.

Visual Closure: The ability to know what an object is when only parts of it are visible.

Spatial Relationships: The ability for a person to understand how objects are positioned in space in relation to themselves. It involves distance, and the relationship of objects and characters described on paper or in a spoken narrative.

How to Identify and Respond to It

Difficulties in these areas can look different according to the age of the child. In early childhood these difficulties can look like:

  • Confusing written symbols (x, +, /, &, $)
  • Easily distracted by competing visual information
  • Writing within margins, on lines, or aligning numbers in math problems
  • Judging distances
  • Moving fluidly (getting out of the way, knocking things over)
  • Differentiating colors or similarly shaped letters and numbers (b. d. p, q, 6, 9)


  • Enlarge print
  • Read written directions out loud
  • Don’t overemphasize weaknesses, make sure you are building other skills too
  • Break things into clear, concise steps
  • Point out details

School-Age Children Difficulties

  • Organizing and solving math problems
  • Finding and retaining important information in reading assignments or tests
  • Writing well-organized essays
  • Copying from the board
  • Fine motor activities
  • Reading with speed and precision


  • Allow students to give oral answers
  • Provide paper for writing and math that has darker or raised lines to make boundaries more distinct
  • Organize assignments to be completed in smaller steps
  • Use a ruler as a reading guide
  • Tape recorder for note taking
  • Proofreading buddies

Teenagers and Adults

  • Identifying information from pictures, charts, graphs, and maps
  • Organizing sources into one document
  • Finding specific information on a printed page
  • Remembering directions

Websites and Other References