How Visual Processing Disorder Affects Reading

Visual processing disorder (VPD) is a condition that affects a person’s ability to process and interpret visual information. Someone with VPD does not have a physical problem with their eyes. Rather, the brain has trouble making sense of visual input. It can make it difficult to recognize letters and words or to distinguish between similar-looking words. With the right supports and strategies, we can help literacy learners achieve their goals.

How VPD Affects Reading

Parents and educators normally recognise VPD as a child is learning. Often, children are misdiagnosed with dyslexia. Therefore, it is important to consult with a behavioral or neuro-optometrist who specializes in visual processing.

Reading requires multiple visual processing skills. These skills include visual discrimination (the ability to distinguish between similar-looking letters and words), visual sequencing (the ability to read and understand the order of letters and words in a sentence), and visual memory (the ability to remember and recall visual information). Learners with VPD may struggle with one or more of these skills, which can make reading challenging.

“An individual with Visual Processing Disorder will require a greater number of exposures, more typically in the range of 10 to 15 times more often, in order to recall visual information, for example a letter or a word.” – Advanced Vision Therapy Center

There are eight different types of visual processing issues and a specialist will identify which one(s) your learner is struggling with. According to the Advanced Vision Therapy Center, some common VPD symptoms that can affect reading include:

  • confusing similar looking words
  • reversing letters or numbers
  • poor reading comprehension
  • making errors while copying
  • easily forgetting letters, numbers or words
  • poor spelling
  • handwriting that is crooked or poorly spaced
  • difficulty following multi-stepped directions
  • difficulty telling time or understanding the concept of time

Supporting Learners with VPD

While the learner is working with a specialist on specific visual processing therapies, there are a number of things practitioners can do to support students with VPD.

  • Give instructions verbally as well as writing them down. It also helps to write directions in a different colour from the rest of an assignment. Be sure to describe any visual presentations aloud and/or provide narration.
  • Use assistive technology. These tools include text-to-speech software, screen readers, large prints and specialized fonts that are designed to be easier to read.
  • Break tasks into smaller steps. This can include focusing on one word at a time, or reading short phrases instead of full sentences.
  • Provide visual aids. Visual aids, such as highlighting, underlining text, or using a reading guide strip, can help learners with VPD to keep their place while reading.
  • Provide a slant board (or three-ring binder) to bring work closer to student’s visual field.
  • Provide frequent breaks. Reading can be tiring for learners with VPD, so it’s important to provide frequent breaks and to give them opportunities to rest and refocus.

Visual processing disorder can have a significant impact on literacy. However, with the right support and accommodations, individuals with VPD can develop the skills they need to become confident and successful readers. If you suspect that a learner has VPD, it’s important to seek professional guidance to ensure that they receive the appropriate support.

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