What is Visual Processing?
Visual information processing skills provide the ability to organise, structure and interpret visual stimuli, giving meaning to what is seen. They can be defined as: "Higher order" functions, including visual perception and cognition, and their integration with motor, language, and attention systems". These skills create a stable and predictable visual environment, which is important for every learning situation.
Vision Information Processing Assessment
Visual information processing testing assesses the presence of any delays or deficits in:
- visual spatial orientation
- visual analysis (which encompasses non-motor visual perception)
- visual integration skills
(further explanations on these areas below).
Visual spatial orientation
Visual spatial orientation is the awareness of one’s own position in space relative to other objects, as well as the location of objects relative to each other. It includes body knowledge and control, as well as bilateral integration. These skills are important for balance and coordinated body movements, navigation in the environment, following spatial directions and understanding the orientation of letters and numbers.
Collectively, these contribute to the development of skills for the ability to recognise whether letters and numerals are correctly orientated. When deficits in these skills are present, it can be associated with poorer reading performance.
Visual Analysis skills
Commonly referred to as ‘visual perception’, these non-motor visual analysis skills are the active processes for locating, selecting, extracting, analysing, recalling and manipulating relevant information in the visual environment.
Visual Analysis skills are important for recognising and remembering likes and differences in orientation, shape and position in what we see. They represent one of the core skills for letter and number recognition, sight word vocabulary, and mathematical concepts.
These skills are related to the individual's ability to integrate visual information processing with fine-motor movement. Another term for visual-motor integration is eye-hand coordination.
An example of this is the hand-eye coordination in catching a ball. A child must make many visual judgements about the ball (e.g. speed & direction) and then translate the visual judgements into appropriate motor responses of the hand and body. If the visual-motor integration is accurate, they will catch the ball.
A more abstract and higher level example of visual-motor integration is handwriting. As the child begins to write a letter, there is no external stimulus that guides their hand. Rather, the 'mind's eye' is used to guide the hand in the desired direction and pattern. As the written product emerges, they must continuously use visual-analysis skills to judge whether the shape or size of the letter is appropriate. Fine-motor skills must also be used to manipulate the pencil. If they can accurately integrate (or combine) visual-analysis skills and fine-motor skills, the desired letter will be successfully completed.
What can been done to help?
Visual information processing deficits are usually considered developmental in nature. With maturation and experience there will be increases in performance, but the rate of progression of skill development continues to lag (in other words, if there is no intervention, visual processing skills will improve with time, but may still be below age norms).
Because these skills are developmental, they respond well to vision therapy. Vision therapy does not directly treat learning or reading disabilities, it is a treatment to improve visual efficiency and visual processing, thereby allowing the person to be more responsive to educational instruction. The expected outcome of optometric intervention is an improvement in visual function with the alleviation of associated signs and symptoms.