Visual System: Lack of Visual Development Creates Poor Visual Perception Skills
This article provides a helpful introduction to your child’s visual system. Additional articles will be included in this series. Affiliate links are below for your convenience.
Most of what we learn, especially in the classroom, is through our visual system. Educators from every field agree there is a close connection between vision and learning. Vision is our most powerful sense. Kids must acquire many physical and mental abilities to perform well in school, but a good vision system not only allows our child to see information, but process information through their visual system, which is key to the learning process. It is estimated that approximately 80 percent of your child’s learning in school and at home occurs through his or her eyes. Reading, writing, math, problem solving, using computers and copying notes from the chalkboard are all visual tasks that children perform daily. In addition, sequencing, visual memory, letter retention and handwriting can all be affected by your child’s vision system. Your child’s eyes are constantly used in the classroom, as well as on the playground, at home, and while your child is doing leisure activities.
How our Visual System Impacts Learning
Between 2 percent and 20 percent of the U.S. school population have some type of reading disorder, which many times relates to an underdeveloped visual system. The visual system is unique in that it is not only about the eyes; it is also about the brain. This means when your child is learning to read their letters, retain numbers and processes words on a page, it is seen through their eyes, but processed through their brain.
More importantly, your child’s visual system is also tied to their balance and how well their vestibular system is developed. Your child’s vestibular system is like an internal GPS system and works hand-in-hand with their visual system. If your child has a poor balance system or an underdeveloped vestibular, this may be why letters or numbers appear to jump off the page, are backward, floating or they may even see double. It is not enough for your child to have good eye sight; they must also have a strong visual system to process visual information. For this reason, integrating movement exercises into your child’s daily routine builds proprioception, hand-eye coordination, gross motor and core muscle that feeds your child’s vestibular system, strengthening their visual memory, visual motor and visual processing for retaining and recalling information in school.
In addition, your child’s visual system also incorporates their tactile system, which is important for processing information they learn in school. Think about your learning process. Learning about certain topics requires more than just seeing objects. It means using your tactile system to touch objects, feel their shape and hold it in your hands. This process helps us retain that information through our visual and tactile systems so we can recall those details later when we need them for a test, project or when we need to solve a problem. Using our tactile system in combination with our vestibular system strengthens our visual input and integrates all our other systems together to unlock the power of our vision.
In Developing Ocular Motor and Visual Perceptual Skills, Kenneth A. Lane, says, “We think with our whole brain and read and solve complex problems with our whole brain. This is why it is important for us to do activities that involve the whole brain.”
What is Visual Perception?
Your child’s visual perception is when the eyes interpret and make sense of information they see. When your child has difficulty reading, it is often perceived by parents and teachers as a vision issue; however, a child can have 20/20 vision while they struggle with visual processing. Because your child uses visual perception on a daily basis for reading, writing, drawing, math, retention and critical thinking, it can affect their attention, focus and self-confidence in the classroom if they have a weakened visual system.
Here are some of the building blocks that make up your child’s visual perception:
- Visual Memory: Your child’s ability to recall visual details of an object, picture or form (comprehension, letter recognition).
- Visual Sequential Memory: How your child recalls a sequence of information in the right order (numbers and letters).
- Visual Attention: Your child’s ability to focus on important information and filter out unimportant background information.
- Figure Ground: Your child’s ability to find an object when it is hidden in a busy background (shapes, objects).
- Visual Discrimination: How your child understands differences in objects based on size, color and shape (confuses words with similar beginnings and endings).
- Visual Spatial Relations: Knowing and understanding objects within your child’s environment (poor balance, coordination, vestibular and rhythm).
- Visual Closure: Your child’s ability to know when an object is missing from a picture or puzzle.
- Form Constancy: How your child knows two objects are the same even if they are different in size, shape and color.
Functions of the Visual System
When the human eye is functioning correctly, it performs the same as a camera does when we take a picture. Light passes through the lens of your eye and is “recorded” on the back of your eye onto the retina. The image is upside down when it hits the retina. The retina is like a movie screen which shows the picture that you are seeing upside down. The retina has two different types of cells – rods and cones. Rods see in black and white and cones see in colors. The rods and cones turn images into electrical messages for the brain. The electrical messages are sent along the optic nerve to the brain. The optic nerve is a bit like a T.V. cable that transfers all those pictures and images into something we can view easily. The optic nerve connects to the brain through the occipital lobe, which is the posterior part of the brain. This is where the visual cortex lies. The visual cortex interprets the electrical signals produced by the light stimulation of the retina, where the rods and cones pick out black and white and color information.
Just think, with all of this action is going on in the background while your child is learning, it’s no wonder signals can be crossed or messages can get mixed up in the brain as we process information through our visual system.
As a child progresses in school, they face increased demands on their visual system. The print size of letters and words in textbooks becomes smaller, they must retain large quantities of information, and the amount of time expected to read and study increases significantly, many times before your child’s visual system is fully developed and ready for this type of learning. The increased amount of time for focus on the teacher, copying notes from a whiteboard to a paper and a surge of homework all creates demands on a student’s eyes. Many children adapt and excel because their visual system performs adequately, but others struggle with these demands when their visual system experiences certain deficiencies.
Vision and Learning
The links with vision and learning are endless. As your child grows up, they utilize their vision system constantly. The cooperation between your child’s vision, auditory, vestibular, proprioception and touch sensory systems make up your child’s visual perception and how it is developed. Without each system performing adequately, a child may lose some ability and function, or they may struggle with performance in another area. Your child’s vision system is no exception. It allows growth and learning in many of the far-reaching skills that children attain while in the classroom.
When children first learn to read, visual perception problems can impede the development of basic reading skills. Specific eye movements help a child track words and sometimes, if these eye movements are not functioning properly, it can halt basic reading fluency. When a child is grasping the skill of reading to learn, blurry or double vision can impact their ability to read for long periods of time. Reading comprehension can be significantly reduced if this occurs. In one study, researchers showed that uncorrected vision problems in children could be linked to early deficiency in literacy, which can be related to other visual perception skills, not only their vision acuity or how they see information with their eyes.
Writing and Handwriting
When a student has poor visual skills, it may impact their ability to organize their writing and it may impair their capacity to form letters and line up letters and words. When children have poor visual abilities, handwriting also suffers. Your child’s vision system leads the hand when writing, which means a poorly functioning ocular system can cause trouble with directionality, writing in a stationary line, neatness, and organization. Laterality and directionality play into your child’s visual-spatial writing skills. Laterality is the internal self-awareness of your two body sides and knowing they are different. Directionality is the understanding of up, down, left, right, ahead or behind. Efficient eye movement skills are essential in developing solid laterality and directionality skills. If directionality is a problem, learning to read can be very confusing, apart from writing letters. The letters, “b,” “d,” “p,” and “q” often look like the same symbol if your child does not have a good concept of orientation. If your child also struggles with visual-spatial issues, you may notice they don’t understand how to properly space their letters as they write across the page. Sometimes they may leave too much space between letters or cram them altogether on one line.
In math, visual processing, visual memory and visual sequencing all play a key role in your child’s ability to calculate, problem solve and process equations. When a student lacks proper visualization skills, they may have to resort to counting on their fingers even at older ages, which could affect performance on timed tests. Many times, students who struggle with visual memory and visual sequencing can’t remember their numbers, equations or what numbers come after each other. Even if a child is skilled at math, visual problems can manifest themselves when a child is forced to read a story problem and process what the question is asking the child to do.
Visual Memory and Bilateral Integration
Visual memory is an important function that our optical system creates. Visual memory preserves some characteristics of the images and pictures we see. It helps with our immediate recall and the ability to recognize objects we have seen before. Sometimes a child will struggle with visual recall or visual memory, which can affect your child’s spelling. Spelling seems to be a common problem with those who have visual memory issues because they often confuse letters, can’t remember the names or sounds of letters, and often add or remove letters from words and phrases.
Bilateral integration is another visual spatial skill that is important for learning. It is the ability to use both sides of the body effectively but separately. For example, when your child writes on a piece of paper with their right hand and holds the paper with their left hand. Another example is when your child types on a computer or rides a bicycle. They must visually follow the path or screen in front of them while peddling or typing. With proper development, the right and left sides of the body, particularly the hands, will begin to improve each other’s function so they can work together to complete certain tasks.
Looking into your Child’s Visual Issues
In Reflexes, Learning and Behavior, written by Sally Goddard, it describes how vision is essential for academic learning. The skills of reading, writing, spelling and arithmetic are all dependent upon the ability to see written symbols. When learning difficulties arise, vision is often the first area to check. If your child passes a simple eye exam that typically only checks distance vision, further investigation into other possible visual problems is a good idea. Your child can still have visual processing and visual perception issues even if their vision is perfect.
In addition, if your child’s vision system is not working properly, you may notice other issues with their balance, coordination and gross motor skills. This is also a sign to have your child tested. It could mean your child’s vision system is not functioning properly, which could be the reason for attention and focus issues, fidgeting and behavior problems that prevent them from reaching their academic potential in the classroom.
Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning disabilities achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs
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