What’s Visual Processing?

Sight is what we can see. This is often one of the first areas of investigation if a child is falling behind academically.

However sight isn’t the only area of vision that may create challenges with formal learning. Visual Processing, the connection between the eyes and brain, also warrants investigation.

Not only do our eyes need to see, our brain needs to be able to control the movements of our eyes as well as interpret the incoming visual information.

Here are four areas of visual processing that may create stress for children if not yet well developed:


1. Tracking

The ability of our eyes to move smoothly in the direction of print (left to right), with control and stamina.


2. Vergence

Our eyes working together to focus on objects that move towards us (convergence) or away from us (divergence).


3. Binocular Vision

This is when our eyes work together to form depth perception, establishing where things are in relation to each other (the cup and water jug or the airborne ball and the person).


4. Accommodation

Arguably the most important when it comes to school work, accommodation is when our eyes refocus between two objects of different distances. For example, the book on the table in front of us (near) and the whiteboard on the wall (far). If there’s a delay in focussing at each location, copying from the whiteboard will be frustratingly slow and tiring.


Signs of Visual Processing Challenges:

  • Challenges with reading and writing

  • Frequent headaches

  • Red, sore or watery eyes

  • Slow copying from the whiteboard

  • Looses place easily when reading

  • Avoids ball games or finds them challenging

  • Spills drinks often

  • Tendency to fall up or down stairs


The Process of Eye Development

A child’s eye development evolves really quickly in the first six months of life. Babies start out with black and white short distance vision. Colour and longer range vision follows shortly after. However, it’s during the milestones of rocking and crawling that a child’s visual development really ramps up a notch. This is when both eyes learn to work together at near and far distances. It is also when the baby’s muscle tone increases significantly, which has a positive effect on the eye muscles.

There are two specific primitive reflexes that are likely to get in the way of good visual processing. They are the Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR) and Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR). To learn more about them, I invite you to read this free eBook about the primitive reflexes.


How to Support Healthy Eye Development:

  • Seek a cranial adjustment from an osteopath or chiropractor shortly after birth, especially with a forceps or ventouse delivery.

  • Create opportunities for lots of floor play from birth, with opportunities to watch, reach and grasp objects. Black and white objects that offer contrast are best for newborns.

  • Support the milestone of crawling for as long as possible. A child knows when it’s time to walk -we don’t.

  • Play games that incorporate eye-hand coordination training:

    • brachiation (monkey bars)

    • popping bubbles with a paddle pop stick

    • tapping a balloon with fly swat

    • watching feathers flutter to the ground

    • rolling a ping pong ball to someone, who attempts to catch it in an upside-down cup

    • throwing and catching activities

  • See an optometrist for an annual check up. I highly recommend your first visit prior to starting school.

  • If your child is struggling with reading, writing or appears to have weak eye muscles at any stage of development, seek an assessment from a Behavioural Optometrist.


“Practice puts brains in your muscles”. Sam Snead

When a child is first learning how to read and write, we don’t ever consider if their eyes are up to the task. But we need to. The eyes are no different to the other muscles in our body. They need to build up strength and maturity before we can expect much in return.


Want to learn more about visual processing?

Here’s a fascinating conversation that I had with behavioural optometrist James Sleeman, on episode 53 of the Thriving Children Podcast.

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