What is Visual Processing Disorder in Children

Three children sitting at desks in a classroom, engaged in their work. The foreground shows a smiling girl writing in a notebook with colored pencils scattered on the desk. The text overlay reads, 'What is Visual Processing Disorder in Children?' with the Special Ed Resource logo in the bottom right corner.

Emily’s parents grew increasingly concerned as she struggled to keep up with her classmates. Writing assignments frustrated her, and she often confused similar-looking letters like ‘b’ and ‘d’. 

Simple math problems became challenging when she mixed numbers like ‘6 and ‘9’

Her teacher noticed that Emily sometimes lost her place while reading and could not focus on a single line of text on her worksheet.

As the school year progressed, Emily’s difficulties impacted her self-esteem. She hesitated to participate in class, fearing she would make mistakes. 

Her parents knew something wasn’t right and decided to seek professional advice. After several consultations, they learned about visual processing disorder—a condition that affects how the brain interprets visual information.

Following a comprehensive assessment, Emily was diagnosed with visual processing disorder. Her parents felt a mix of relief and determination. They now understood the root of her struggles and were committed to providing her the support she needed. 

They worked closely with educators and specialists to create a supportive learning environment.

Emily’s story underscores the importance of early recognition and addressing visual processing disorder. Children like Emily can overcome visual processing challenges and reach their full potential with tailored interventions and a structured environment.

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Understanding the nuances of visual processing disorder is crucial for parents and educators. Identifying early symptoms can significantly affect a child’s academic performance and overall confidence.


What is Visual Processing Disorder?

Is your child struggling to keep up in school, frequently misreading words, or showing frustration with homework? These could be indicators of a visual processing disorder.

It isn’t a visual impairment related to problems with sight but rather the brain’s ability to process what it sees.

Visual Processing Disorder (VPD) is when the brain has difficulty interpreting and making sense of visual information received through the eyes. 

Children with VPD may struggle to understand visual stimuli, impacting their ability to learn and interact with the environment effectively.


Common Signs of Visual Processing Disorders:

Recognizing the signs of visual processing disorder in children can be challenging for parents. But it is crucial for early intervention. Some common symptoms of visual processing disorders include:

– Visual Discrimination:

Visual discrimination involves distinguishing differences and similarities between objects and symbols. 

Children with visual discrimination issues may struggle to notice the differences between shapes, letters, and numbers, which can significantly impact their reading and writing skills.

Examples of Visual Discrimination Challenges:

  • Letter Confusion: Struggling to differentiate between letters such as ‘b and ‘d’, ‘p and ‘q,’ or ‘m’ and ‘n.’
  • Number Confusion: Finding it difficult to see the difference between numbers like ‘6 and ‘9, or ‘3 and ‘8’.
  • Shape Recognition: Having trouble distinguishing between basic shapes like circles, squares, and triangles, especially when they are similar in size.
  • Object Identification: Difficulty recognizing minor differences in similar shapes or patterns, such as distinguishing between similar-looking objects or symbols on a worksheet.
  • Color Differentiation: Challenges distinguishing between similar colors can affect tasks such as color-coding or sorting items by color.
  • Directionality Issues: Problems with understanding left vs. right or up vs. down, leading to confusion in following directions or spatial tasks.

By recognizing these specific challenges, parents and educators can better support children with visual discrimination difficulties and implement targeted strategies to help them improve their visual processing skills.

– Figure-Ground Confusion

Figure-ground confusion refers to the difficulty in distinguishing an object from its background. This is crucial for tasks such as reading, where you must discern letters and words from the page’s background or locate an object in a cluttered environment.

Examples of Figure-Ground Confusion Challenges:

  • Reading Difficulties: Struggling to focus on a single line of text without being distracted by the surrounding words or lines on a page.
  • Finding Items: Difficulty locating a specific object in a cluttered drawer, shelf, or toy box.
  • Copying from a Board: Challenges in copying notes from a chalkboard or whiteboard, as the child may struggle to isolate the relevant information.
  • Identifying Shapes: Problems with identifying a shape or symbol within a complex design or pattern.
  • Navigating Worksheets: Difficulty completing worksheets due to an inability to separate the instructions from the exercises or questions.
  • Classroom Environment: Trouble focusing in a busy classroom, as background noise and movement may distract them.

Understanding the impact of figure-ground confusion can help parents and educators create a more accessible learning environment by reducing visual clutter and providing clear, focused visual cues for children with this challenge.


– Form Constancy Challenges:

Form constancy challenges refer to difficulties recognizing shapes, letters, or objects in different sizes, positions, or contexts. This skill is essential for reading and understanding that letters and numbers are the same regardless of how they are presented.

Examples of Form Constancy Challenges:

  • Letter Recognition: Difficulty recognizing that the letter ‘A remains the same whether it is uppercase, lowercase, or different fonts and styles.
  • Shape Identification: Problems identifying a shape, such as a triangle whether it is rotated or of different sizes and colors.
  • Reading Comprehension: Challenges in understanding that the same word can appear in different handwriting styles and still mean the same thing.
  • Spatial Awareness: Struggling with puzzles, the child might not recognize that pieces fit together regardless of their orientation.
  • Mathematical Symbols: Difficulty recognizing math symbols such as ‘+,’ ‘-,’ and ‘= when they appear in different fonts or are handwritten.
  • Everyday Objects: Trouble recognizing familiar objects when viewed from different angles or lighting conditions. For example, a child may have difficulty identifying a cat, whether it is sitting or lying down. 

By identifying form constancy challenges, parents and educators can use consistent and clear visual representations and provide repeated exposure to various forms of letters, shapes, and objects to help children strengthen their form constancy skills.


– Visual Memory Issues:

Visual memory issues involve difficulties recalling or recognizing visual information that has been seen before. This can impact a child’s ability to remember the order of letters, words, and numbers, consequently affecting reading, writing, and math skills.

Examples of Visual Memory Issues:

  • Spelling Challenges: Trouble remembering the spelling of common words, even after repeated exposure and practice.
  • Reading Skills: Difficulty recalling the appearance of words or letters, affecting the ability to read fluently.
  • Math Problems: Struggling to remember the layout of math problems or the appearance of numbers and symbols, leading to confusion in solving equations.
  • Copying from the Board: They may have issues copying words or diagrams from the board. The child may forget parts of the information before writing it down.
  • Pattern Recognition: Difficulty remembering visual patterns, sequences, or shapes, which can impact tasks involving visual instructions or puzzles.
  • Daily Tasks: Challenges in remembering the appearance of familiar routes, faces, or objects, leading to difficulties in daily navigation and recognition tasks.

Addressing visual memory issues can involve using mnemonic devices, repetition, and visual aids like flashcards, as well as breaking down complex information into smaller, manageable parts to improve visual recall and retention.


Impact on Academic Performance

Visual processing disorder can significantly impact a child’s academic performance. Difficulties in processing visual information may lead to challenges in reading comprehension, language skills, math, problem-solving, and overall learning. 

Early identification and intervention are vital to address these obstacles and support the child in developing effective coping strategies. 

Collaborating with educators and specialists can help create accommodations to enhance the learning experience for the child.


Diagnosing Visual Processing Disorder:

Diagnosing visual processing disorder involves comprehensive assessments and tests to evaluate visual perception and processing abilities. Professionals use specific, age-appropriate evaluations to identify how a child perceives and processes visual information.

Professionals Involved in Diagnosis:

  • Optometrists: Look for eye care professionals specializing in diagnosing and treating visual processing disorders. The eye doctor will also want to rule out any vision problems.
  • Neuropsychologists: Psychologists with expertise in brain-behavior relationships who can conduct specialized assessments to determine cognitive and perceptual functioning.
  • Occupational Therapists: These therapists focus on helping children develop the skills needed for daily living and may conduct assessments related to visual-motor integration.


Visual Processing Diagnostic Tests:

These tests help identify specific visual processing weaknesses and guide the creation of targeted intervention strategies to support the child’s learning and daily functioning.


  • Test of Visual Perceptual Skills (TVPS-4): Measures various visual perception abilities, including visual discrimination, spatial relationships, and visual memory. This test helps determine the child’s ability to process visual information.
  • Developmental Test of Visual Perception (DTVP-3): This test provides a comprehensive look at visual perceptual skills and visual-motor integration. Subtests include Eye-Hand Coordination, Copying, Figure-Ground, Visual Closure, Form Constancy, and Visual-Motor Speed. It is suitable for children aged 4-10 and typically takes 20-30 minutes to administer using paper and pencil.
  • Motor-Free Visual Perception Test (MVPT-4): This test evaluates a child’s visual perceptual abilities without requiring a motor response. It covers areas like spatial relationships, visual discrimination, and figure-ground perception.
  • Beery-Buktenica Developmental Test of Visual-Motor Integration (Beery VMI): This test focuses on visual-motor integration by requiring children to copy increasingly complex shapes. It helps assess the connection between visual input and motor output.

For a more detailed list of diagnosis assessments, visit OT School House.


Treatment Options for Visual Processing Disorder:

A treatment plan for visual processing disorder aims to improve visual processing skills and enhance overall visual perception. 

Various approaches, such as visual processing therapy and occupational therapy, can help children develop strategies for improving their visual processing abilities.

By understanding the signs, diagnosis process, and treatment options for VPD, parents can better support their children in managing and improving their visual processing difficulties.


Difference Between Visual Processing Disorder and Dyslexia and ADHD

Visual processing disorder can often be confused with or coexist with other learning difficulties, such as dyslexia and ADHD. Understanding the distinctions is crucial for accurate diagnosis and effective intervention.

VPD shares similarities with dyslexia and ADHD but is distinct in how it affects the brain’s processing of visual information. While dyslexia primarily impacts reading abilities and ADHD affects attention and hyperactivity, visual processing disorder specifically impairs the interpretation of what the child sees. 


Overlap with Other Learning Disabilities

It’s common for children to have a combination of these conditions, making accurate diagnosis essential for the right support.


Creating a Supportive Environment for Children with Visual Processing Disorder

Visual processing disorder can present challenges for children in various aspects of their lives. As a parent of a school-age child dealing with visual processing issues, creating a supportive environment is crucial to help them thrive. 

Here are ways to support your child with VPD at home, boost their self-esteem, and collaborate effectively with teachers and healthcare professionals.


– Supporting Your Child with Visual Processing Difficulties at Home

  1. Provide Consistent Routines: Establishing predictable routines can help children with visual processing challenges navigate daily activities more effectively.
  2. Create a Clutter-Free Environment: Minimize visual distractions at home by organizing spaces and decluttering to reduce overwhelming stimuli.
  3. Use Visual Aids: Utilize visual aids like color-coded schedules, labels, and visual organizers to enhance comprehension and organization for your child.


– Building Self-Esteem and Confidence

  1. Celebrate Achievements: Recognize and celebrate your child’s accomplishments, no matter how small, to boost their confidence and motivation.
  2. Encourage Growth Mindset: Emphasize effort over perfection and encourage your child to approach challenges positively.
  3. Provide Encouragement: Offer constant support, reassurance, and positive reinforcement to help your child build resilience and self-belief.


– Collaborating with Teachers and Healthcare Professionals

  1. Open Communication Channels: Foster open communication with your child’s teachers and therapists to share insights on their visual processing challenges and progress.
  2. Attend Support Meetings: Meet with educators and specialists to discuss strategies, accommodations, and goals tailored to your child’s needs.
  3. Implement Consistent Strategies: Work together with professionals to implement consistent approaches at home and school to support your child effectively.


Next Steps

Visual Processing Disorder is a condition that can significantly impact your child’s daily life, from their ability to read and write to how they interact with the world around them. 

If you suspect your child might have a visual processing disorder, seek a professional diagnosis. Early diagnosis leads to early intervention.

Supporting your child at home is equally important. Trust your instincts and seek the help your child needs to thrive. By addressing visual processing problems early, you can give your child the tools they need for success in school and beyond.

Additional Resources

You may want to check out these additional resources for parents: 


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Young girl smiling and writing in a notebook at a classroom desk, with colored pencils. Below the photo, the text reads, 'What is Visual Processing Disorder in Children?' with the Special Ed Resource logo at the bottom on an orange and white bar.
Does your child have visual processing disorder? Here’s how to recognize signs of VPD, get a diagnosis, and use effective strategies at home.

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Shannah Holt

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