7 Ways To Help Students With Vision Processing Issues
Last week, we looked at how visual processing issues can change the way a student (my son, in my personal scenario) sees the world around him. With vision issues, the research is always increasing, so it is important to keep up with the latest findings to understand the different types of issues. There are a lot of misunderstandings about vision processing – if people know about them at all.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that vision processing and dyslexia are the same. I thought this for a long time after my son was diagnosed. They share many of the same signs, but the two are actually quite different.
How Visual Processing Issues Differ from Dyslexia
First off, we should discuss the difference between visual processing issues and dyslexia.
Dyslexia is trouble processing language and causes difficulty with reading and writing.
Visual processing is trouble processing information that the eyes see. So, if your student is having issues with reading, it may be that he or she is having issues processing the words on the page.
This is why teachers might think students with visual processing issues have dyslexia. Many of the symptoms of both issues present in a similar manner, but the underlying problem is completely different.
Common Misconceptions with Visual Processing Issues
I thought it would be beneficial to list out some other facts about visual processing issues that might be misunderstood.
Visual processing issues cannot be corrected with glasses/contacts
- It is possible for your student or child to have 20/20 vision and still have visual processing issues. This is because seeing is more than reading. Visual processing issues deal with how the brain processing information, not how the eye receives the information.
Visual processing issues are not the same as ADHD
- ADHD and visual processing issues are completely different. However, when a student is having difficulty with processing information, their behavior can present in a similar manner to those students who have ADHD.
Visual processing issues do not disappear with age
- Certain characteristics of visual processing issues can lessen with age but generally speaking, students who have visual processing issues will have them for the rest of their lives. Therapy can help tremendously.
- Unfortunately, both screening and therapy is very expensive and is not covered by most insurance plans. This makes it difficult for children with vision processing issues to be diagnosed and treated.
How Visual Processing Issues Are Diagnosed
Since visual processing issues are not found with a common eye exam, it is vital that questions are asked about why your student is having issues with reading or with school in general.
Once there is a cause for concern, the first step for the family is to speak with the pediatrician. Once seen by a pediatrician, the child could be referred to a pediatric ophthalmologist (primary eye care for children) for further evaluation.
Screening might also start with a vision test, but please remember that opticians and even some ophthalmologists’ offices are not equipped to screen for vision processing problems. I took my son to my eye doctor, who did not find anything but encouraged me to see the vision specialist. He explained that vision specialists are really the only doctors that will identify these types of vision issues.
Since visual processing issues are not truly related to the relationship between the page and the eye, it is possible the child could be referred to a neuropsychologist, a doctor trained to diagnose learning issues and weaknesses.
It is up to these healthcare professionals to help the family come to a conclusion about the situation. Parents should follow their instincts – if they really believe that something is wrong, don’t stop with a clean vision test at the opticians’ office. These issues really require the help of a specialist.
How You Can Help Your Students
If you have a student who has visual processing issues, here are some things you can do to help them learn.
IEP – Every IEP deserves to be taken seriously. Some IEPs for students with visual processing issues can include reading tutoring and writing tutoring. Different students will have different needs – it depends exactly what the underlying vision processing issue is.
RTI – Some schools have RTI (response to intervention) programs that screen students and discover who needs extra attention. RTI begins as small group instruction, with individuals coming out for one-on-one instruction. However, I would caution taking a student with vision processing issues and just ask them to read more. Sticking them on the computer to read more really will not help many students with vision processing issues (based on my experience.) Small group or one-on-one lessons will help much more. (That is the biggest reason we homeschooled for a few years.)
504 Plans – Not every student has an IEP (even some who need it). Some of those students can receive a 504 plan. This list can include things like less homework for the student to read independently, having tests read aloud, extended time, or more informal supports like large print books.
Read Information Aloud
- If you have a student or students who have visual processing issues, consider reading the work on your board aloud. Some students who have weak visual skills learn better through auditory. (Even if they aren’t identified, chances are you have at least one student with vision processing issues. The great majority of underlying vision processing issues are not identified.)
Pictures for Parents
- Take a picture of your board to send to a parent so they can reinforce the lesson. Many students with vision issues have great difficulty copying from the board. They have to focus and refocus every time they move their eyes, and they get lost easily when trying to find where they are.
Give Extra Time
- This might be written in an IEP or 504, but if you have a student with visual processing issues, think about giving them extra time in reading or writing assignments/assessments. Honestly, if you are trying to find students’ level of mastery, allowing students time to finish is good practice for all students.
Alternative Ways to Respond
- A student may know the correct answer, but could get caught up in filling in the blank. Instead, let them circle an answer. If you have a student who seems to know a lot more than they show on tests, pull them aside privately and ask what they know orally.
Vary Your Assessment Formats
- Sometimes the format of your assessment may actually be preventing students from doing their best. Students with processing issues often struggle to recall information but can easily recognize it. My son is like this, and a teacher friend who has dyslexia said she had the same issue. Instead of giving a test that is all fill in the blank, provide a word bank or some multiple choice. My son has an incredibly difficult time recalling the correct spelling, but when given options he can almost always pick the one that is correct. Now that we are working on a foreign language, it is the same problem. He can’t remember the English word, but he can remember the first 2-3 letters of it. If he had a word bank, he could more easily show what he knows. (Yes, I realize that when talking he won’t have a word bank, but with practice eventually the words will become second nature – but it takes a lot more practice than it might for other students.)
Combine Your Visual/Auditory Directions
- When giving directions, posting schedules, summarizing important information, or communicating in any way, combine both visual and auditory directions.
- Provide things like graph paper for math, colored glue sticks for use on white paper, a slant board to bring work closer, Wikki Stix (or something similar) to create a border. Get creative here with what you have and what you can do. For note-taking, provide partially completed notes – or for students with more severe issues, give them the notes and have them highlight information instead.
Advocating for Your Students
By the time October rolls around, you start to have a real understanding of who your students are and where they are at academically. If you feel like you have a student who has the potential to quickly fall behind, it is your responsibility to figure out what the next step is.
If you have a student who you think could have a visual processing disorder, it is up to you to assist them in whatever manner is deemed appropriate in your district. Part of your job as a teacher is to advocate for your students. If you have a hunch, follow it. The worst you can be is wrong. The best that can happen is that a student gets the assistance they need to be a success.
Do you have any questions? Do you have a student who you think could benefit from assistance? Do you have experience in this field? Let me know.
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