February 1, 2024

Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: Visual System

Read here to understand how the complex visual system works and its relationship to Sensory Processing Disorder.

Most people have heard the saying that their “eyes are playing tricks” on them. This is a very real phenomenon for everyone at one point or another, due to the complexity of our visual systems. The visual system uses light to detect information through our eyes and then interprets or makes sense of that information in the brain. It works closely with our vestibular and auditory systems to help us safely navigate our environment by orienting us to where we are in relation to other objects. There are many components of an optimally functioning visual system. This means that activities like reading, catching or hitting a ball, locating an object, or giving directions can be challenging even for those with 20/20 vision if there are deficits in ocular motor control or visual processing.

In addition to how clearly our eyes register images, our eye muscles play a significant role in how well we control our gaze to adjust to movement, shift between focuses, and how we use both of our eyes together. Without adequate ocular motor control, a child’s school work, balance, depth perception, and eye-hand coordination will likely be impacted. Another level at which a child may have difficulty with visual information is the processing of what they are seeing. The ability to cognitively process information we take in through our eyes can be broken down into several categories, called visual perceptual skills. Those with trouble in one area of visual perception may present with strong skills in another area, meaning that deficits in processing of visual information can take on many forms.

Red flags that may indicate difficulties with visual processing or ocular motor control:

  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Easily distracted by visual stimuli or difficulty sustaining visual attention to an activity
  • Frequently squints, rubs eyes, or gets a headache after visually demanding tasks such as reading, using a phone/tablet/computer, or watching television
  • Trouble finding things they are looking for, even when they seem to be “right in front of them”
  • Difficulty initiating or holding eye contact
  • Increased fear of or desire for being in the dark
  • Difficulty discriminating between similar shapes, letters, or pictures
  • Difficulties with handwriting such as letter reversals, sizing, spacing, or alignment of letters.
  • Frequently loses their place while reading or copying
  • Often bumps into things
  • May be slow or hesitant with stairs
  • Difficulty with visually stimulating activities, i.e., puzzles, locating objects in pictures, completing mazes, word searches or dot-to-dots
  • Trouble knowing left from right

Activities to develop visual skills:

  • Work on visual tracking skills by engaging with moving objects or with stationary objects while the body is moving. This could be catching a thrown or bounced ball while standing, walking, or swinging; using a bat to hit a ball on a T-stand or tossed in the air; identifying a series of letters, shapes, colors, etc. while jumping, rolling, crawling, or swinging
  • Crawling and rolling activities are great for development of eye control
  • “Spot the difference” or “hidden object” pictures
  • Activities such as puzzles, “I Spy,” “Where’s Waldo?” or word searches
  • Games such as Tetris, Speed Stacks, or the Memory game
  • Always encourage eye contact while speaking
  • Set up scavenger hunts or play “hot and cold” to locate items
  • Tap a balloon back and forth or see how many times your child can tap it without touching the ground
  • Blowing bubbles and popping them with one finger
  • Play flashlight games to track the light in a dim or dark room
  • Match or sort objects

More on the Subtypes of SPD:

  1. Sensory Processing Disorder: The Subtypes
  2. Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: The Tactile System
  3. Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: The Auditory System
  4. Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: The Vestibular System

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Although we talk about our services here, our highest goal is for you to feel comfortable and knowledgeable about picking a provider that is the best fit for your needs. You are making a decision that will impact the entire trajectory of your child’s life!
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