6 Questions To Help You See Visual Processing Disorder Clearly

Answers, Resources, and More

A child with visual perception problems may learn best through the auditory channel. Children who look out the corner of their eye while reading often have visual processing problems. Suspect a visual processing problem in children who finger-flick in front of their eyes, or hate either fluorescent lights or escalators. To some of these individuals the world looks like it is viewed through a kaleidoscope: flat, without depth perception, and broken into pieces. For others, it is like looking through a small tube, seeing only the small circle of vision directly in front of them, with no peripheral vision.


~Temple Grandin, PhD The Effect of Sensory and Perceptual Difficulties on Learning Styles

Donna Williams, Aspergers author and autism consultant, says autism is like fruit salad.

Our job, whether we are a therapist, parent, or person with autism, is to learn about the information and sensory processing difficulties associated with the spectrum.

Once we learn about these conditions, we can identify solutions for these problems.

I’m not a neuropsychologist, an optometrist, or an occupational therapist.

I’m a counselor.

But I’ve read quite a few articles to share this information with you.

Please share additional information in the comments at the end of this article if you’d like me to edit or add to this article.

6 Questions To Help You See Visual Processing Disorder Clearly

1.  What Is Visual Processing Disorder?

According to LDOnline:

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.

2.  How Common Is Visual Processing Disorder For Autistic People?

Dr. Sandra Tosta, PhD, in her article, The Autistic Child, More Than Meets The Eye, cited a 2012 study (Ikeda J, Davitt BV, Ultmann M, Maxim R, & Cruz OA (2012). Brief Report: Incidence of Ophthalmologic Disorders in Children with Autism. Journal of autism and developmental disorders).

In a study published in the Journal of Autism Developmental Disorders in 2012, the authors reported finding ophthalmologic pathology in 40% of patients with autism, leading them to conclude that “children with autism or a related disorder will frequently have an ophthalmologic abnormality.”

Other research studies look at visual processing difficulties in decoding emotional expressions or remembering faces, or a tendency toward exquisite focus on details, but having more difficulty seeing how all the details come together.

I found a thread here and here , where Aspergers people shared their visual processing challenges.

3.  What Are Some Visual Processing Disorder Symptoms?

Thank you to Understood.Org for sharing this list of visual processing disorder symptoms.

Do you struggle with any of these?

  • Doesn’t pay attention to visual tasks
  • Is easily distracted by too much visual information
  • Is restless or inattentive during video or visual presentations
  • Lacks interest in movies or television
  • Has difficulty with tasks that require copying (taking notes from a board)
  • Reverses or misreads letters, numbers and words
  • Bumps into things
  • Has difficulty writing within lines or margins
  • Has trouble spelling familiar words with irregular spelling patterns
  • Can’t remember phone numbers
  • Has poor reading comprehension when reading silently
  • Can’t remember even basic facts that were read silently
  • Skips words or entire lines when reading, or reads the same sentence over
  • Complains of eye strain or frequently rubs eyes
  • Has below-average reading comprehension and writing skills, despite strong oral comprehension and verbal skills
  • Has weak math skills; frequently ignores function signs, omits steps, and confuses visually similar formulas
  • Routinely fails to observe or recognize changes in bulletin board displays, signs or posted notices

What Are Some Types of Visual Processing Disorders?

Here’s where things get technical.

Hang on.

Thank you, again, to LDOnline, for outlining 7 Types of Visual Processing Disorders.

(Credit to the article:  Block quotes that follow come from LD’s above article)

1. Visual Discrimination Issues.

If your visual discrimination is intact, you have no difficulties noticing and comparing features from one word or object to another.

If, however, you struggle with visual discrimination, you may struggle to tell the difference between similar letters, shapes, or objects.

Or you may struggle to notice the similarities and differences between certain colors, shapes, and patterns.

2.  Visual Figure-Ground Discrimination.

Instead of being able to pick out  a shape or printed character from its background, you may struggle with:

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

3.  Visual Sequencing Issues.

If you struggle with visual sequencing issues, instead of being able to see and distinguish the order of symbols, words or images, you may have difficulties:

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

4.  Visual-Motor Processing Issues.

Visual-motor processing refers to the skill of using our eyes to coordinate the movement of other parts of our bodies.

If you or I struggle with visual-motor processing, others will observe our difficulties:

  • 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

5.  Long or Short Term Visual Processing Issues.

Long-term visual memory helps us remember things/events/facts in the past.  Short-term memory helps us remember something seen very recently.

If I struggle with long or short-term visual processing issues, I’ll have trouble:

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

6.  Visual Spatial Cues Issues

If your visual spatial cue ability is working correctly, you’ll be able to understand how objects are positioned in space in relation to yourself.  This involves depth perception, as well as the relationship of objects described on paper or in a spoken narrative.

If you struggle with visual spatial cues, others will observe you having difficulties with:

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

7.  Visual Closure Issues

If my visual closure skills are intact, I’m able to deduce what an object is, even when I only see part of that object.

However, if I’m struggling with visual closure, you’ll notice that I have difficulties:

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

How Can I Get Help For Visual Processing Disorder?

Thanks to my colleague, Violet, for this helpful information:

It is important to find out what a person’s visual processing issues are.   Several issues are commonly found in those with other autism challenges, but it’s is not a direct 1:1 connection. Professionals that assess this are include OT’s (occupational therapists) with training and experience in SI (sensory integration ) and developmental optometrist.

Optometrists, in my experience, (in my local area) are more likely than ophthalmologists to assess how the eyes work together ( aka- perception or processing ) while ophthalmologists assess vision from the perspective of eye health ( aka vision).

Treatment of processing issues is another story . I have seen “developmental optometrist ” used to indicate an emphasis on treatment. As in there are pediatric / adult ophthalmologists, optometrists, and developmental optometrists. Some of this depends on where you live, state health laws, and special education laws.

For more information, check out this article, How Are Vision Processing Issues Diagnosed?

LDOnline’s article, Visual Processing Disorders: In Detail, provides simple strategies to use for each visual processing disorder.  Also check out LDOnline’s article, Visual Processing Disorders By Age Group.  For each age group, along with a description of challenges, there’s a complete section about accommodation and modification strategies.

If you’re a parent, you can share this information with your child’s school staff.

If you’re an adult discovering your own visual processing issues, try to implement these strategies in your own life.

How Can I Find Out More About Visual Processing Disorder?

Here are some links to articles I read for this post.  You can read them for more in-depth information.

From Handy Handouts, Visual Processing Disorder: How Does This Affect Learning?

Interesting article, from Wikipedia, about Prosopognosia, or face blindness.  You can take a face blindness test here.

Lynn Soraya’s article in Psychology Today,  Smoldering Shelties and Smoking Yorkies: Visual Processing in Asperger’s.

Here’s a helpful guide from Understood.org- Understanding Visual Processing Issues.

Autism as a Fruit Salad, By Donna Williams

The Autistic Child: More Than Meets the Eye, article by Sandra Tosta, PhD, about Irlen Syndrome. (you’ll also want to read the critique section in Wikipedia to be fully informed).

LDOnline’s very helpful article, Visual Processing Disorders: In Detail.

And here is Pinterest Board #1 and Pinterest Board #2 with pins about visual processing disorders and strategies.

Finally, enjoy this presentation Donna Williams put together:

photo attribution – Copyright: lvnel / 123RF Stock Photo

Question: Did you learn more about visual processing disorder from this article?  What else can you share to help the autism community?  Share you answer on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.


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 I'm Steve Borgman.  I'm a licensed clinical professional counselor and blogger committed to bringing you hope, understanding, and solutions that you can apply to your life immediately.

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