Visual Processing Dysfunction and School Problems

A child struggling with visual processing issues will display some of these characteristics:

  • Reading reversals (“was” for “saw,” “on” for “no,” “big” for “dig,” etc.) after initial introduction of the words.
  • Skipping of small words when reading.
  • Needing to use finger to track after age 7.
  • Oral reading that is smooth at the beginning of the page, but becomes more labored the longer a child reads.
  • Experiencing eye fatigue shortly after reading begins (watery eyes, rubbing eyes).
  • Yawning shortly after reading begins.
  • Continuing to struggle even after being prescribed eyeglasses.

Informal Evaluations

These informal evaluations can be done at home to help a parent determine if a child is experiencing a blocked learning gate. Be sure as well to have your child’s vision acuity checked by an optometrist or ophthalmologist to make sure that this is not the cause of the child’s reading problem.

Eye tracking: With the child standing three feet in front of you take an interesting object and slowly move it in a left-to-right manner in front of the child’s eyes. Ask the child to keep his eyes on the target. Do this for about four swings of the target. Watch to see if the child’s eyes skip in any spot, or if they begin to water. Then slowly move the target in a horizontal figure eight manner within the child’s shoulder width, making sure that the target is not too close to the child’s face. See if the child can look in those various directions without skipping or his eyes looking stressed in any way. Make a note of your findings. There are specific exercises that can be done to strengthen a child’s eye teaming abilities to reduce the stress in the visual learning system.

Cross crawl: Many times younger children have difficulty reading because they are not efficiently crossing the midline of their body. This is the process that normally occurs when a baby is crawling. However, some children develop a learning gate problem in this area because they did not crawl, or they crawled but had a traumatic event (such as a fall, or back-to-back ear infections) that inhibited this natural process and made it much less effective.

Reading: There are four components to reading successfully:

  • Eye Tracking ability.
  • Sight Word Memorization.
  • Phonics (letter sounds and word decoding ability).
  • Reading comprehension.

We can observe a child’s oral reading to help use determine if eye tracking ability is contributing to the child’s reading difficulties. If the child can read, have him read a passage, and carefully watch his eyes to see if he reads to the end of the line, and then starts the new line, but quickly darts back with his eyes to the last line to make sure that he is in the right spot. We all do this once in a while. Watch to see if the child does this frequently. This takes much more effort to read when this saccadic eye movement is occurring.

Also observe if the child begins reading the word “dig” by forming a “b” with his mouth first. Any time a child reverses a letter or word, six months after being taught to read, that is a sign of stress in the child’s visual processing system. Make a note of your findings. There are specific things that can be done to make this process easier for your child.

Colored overlays: At times, a child will experience a mild scotopic sensitivity syndrome, which means that the reflection of the white background of the paper makes it more difficult for the child to see the black letters that compose the text.

One of the ways that you can informally determine if this is any issue is by obtaining some plastic colored reading overlays. Have the child read a paragraph or a few lines. Then place a blue colored transparency over the next paragraph and have him read. Then place a green overlay over the next paragraph when the child is reading orally. Listen for subtle changes in fluency. Ask the child what he experienced in fluency while reading with the various colors. Many times the child will say that a particular transparency acted as a magnifying glass, making the letters bigger, and easier to see. There are other colors that you could try, but blue and green are the main ones that help children right away.

If the child does markedly better with one of the colored overlays, continue to use it to reduce the visual stress that he is experiencing. However, it will only act as a temporary aid, until you correct the underlying problem, which is lack of eye convergence. The eyes can be encouraged to work together as a team while reading by doing various home exercises, or by working with a vision therapist using both home and office exercises.

Spotting Hidden Processing Disorders

Processing Disorders

Directionality and Laterality Problems (Poor development right/ left awareness)

  • Has trouble learning left and right
  • May read either left to right or right to left reverse letters and words
  • Has trouble writing and remembering letters and numbers

Faulty Visual Form Perception (The inability to discriminate among different shapes.)

  • Confuses likeness and minor differences
  • Mistakes words with similar beginnings
  • Can’t recognize the same word repeated on a page
  • Can’t recognize letters or even simple forms
  • Can’t distinguish the main idea from insignificant details
  • Has trouble leaning the alphabet recognizing math facts and learning basic math concepts of size, magnitude and position

Faulty Visual Memory (Inability to remember what is seen.)

  • Has Trouble visualizing what is read
  • Has poor comprehension skills
  • Has trouble learning new material is a poor speller
  • Has poor recall of visually presented material
  • Has trouble with tasks that require more than one step
  • Has trouble with mathematical concepts
  • Has trouble with spelling and with sight vocabulary

Faulty Visual Motor Integration (the inability to process and reproduce visual images by writing or drawing.)

  • Has sloppy writing and drawing skills
  • Can’t space letters or stay in lines
  • Has poor copying skills
  • Erases excessively
  • Can respond orally but not in writing
  • Seems to know material but does poorly on tests

Efficiency Disorders

Nearsightedness (The inability to see things well)

  • Squints
  • Gets close to board

Farsightedness(The inability to see close-up things well)

  • Rubs eyes
  • Has watery eyes
  • Complaints of blurred vision

Astigmatism (This condition causes blurred vision for distant and close up things)

  • Rubs eyes
  • Has watery eyes
  • Complaints of blurred vision

Teaming Disorders (binocular vision) A variety of conditions in which the eyes tend to drift inward, outward or upward.

  • Has intermittent double vision
  • Closes or covers one eye
  • Says letters or words appear to move
  • Loses place
  • Is inattentive
  • Rubs eyes
  • Has watery eyes
  • Complains of blurred vision
  • Has poor reading comprehension

Focusing disorders (accommodation) The inability to contract or relax the eyes focusing muscles

  • Has blurred vision when looking from board to book or book to board
  • Holds things very close
  • Has headaches when reading
  • Is tired at the end of the day
  • Is inattentive
  • Rubs eyes
  • Has watery eyes
  • Complains of blurred vision
  • Has poor reading comprehension

Tracking disorders (saccadic dysfunction) Inadequate ability to scan along a line of print and move the eyes from one point in space to another

  • Moves head excessively when reading
  • Loses place frequently
  • Skips lines when reading
  • Uses finger to keep place
  • Has poor reading comprehension
  • Has short attention span

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