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What is visual information processing?

Visual Information Processing is the ability to give meaning to what is being seen. Good visual information processing means being able to quickly and accurately process and analyse what is being seen, and store it in visual memory for later recall. This is important in being able to decide what appropriate action is required to interact with the environment and circumstances to which an individual is exposed. For example, in the classroom when reading and writing it is important to be able to quickly and accurately decode, comprehend and remember written material whilst still being able to listen to the teacher.

Visual information processing skills can be divided into several areas:

1. Visual Spatial Skills

Spatial awareness is an ability to make judgments about the world in relation to ‘me’. It is learned form infancy and depends on past experience. Children develop an understanding of themselves as a point of reference for developing spatial concepts and making judgments of direction. From an understanding of “where I am”, the position of objects and their sequences, there “where is it” takes on meaning.

For optimal processing of visual information, directional responses should be completely accurate and automatic. This ability gradually comes as children relate to the “sidedness” on their own body (right/left awareness), and project this understanding of direction onto the processing of direction – coded information such as “b, d; on, no; was, saw; 31, 13; etc.”.

Children with poor visual spatial skills will have poor knowledge of right and left, show reversals of letters, number and words, have difficulty setting out a page of writing, and have difficulty organising themselves in space and time. Many also have poor eye movement skills.

2. Visual Analysis Skills

Visual analysis skills are a group of abilities used to recognize, recall, and manipulate visual information. The ability to make accurate visual discriminations gradually emerges. What is the child’s ability at making judgments of size, shape, position, and distance? Can he or she remember what is seen and visualise objects in different spatial orientations? The ability to visually inspect detail and then to reproduce (copy) the form involves the use of visual analysis skills to plan the copy movements.

Visual analysis skills include:

  • Form perception – ability to differentiate and recognize forms
  • Visual attention – the ability to focus consciousness on the requirements of a task.
  • Perception speed – the ability to perform visual processing tasks rapidly with minimal cognitive effort.
  • Visual memory – the ability to recall visually presented material

Visual analysis skills are used in learning to remember and recognize letters, numbers and words. Poor visual analysis skills leads to difficulty learning the alphabet, trouble with maths concepts, confusion of similar words, difficulty spelling, and forgetting words seen from one page to the next.

3. Visual Motor Skills

Visual motor integration, often referred to as eye-hand coordination, is the general ability to coordinate visual information processing skills with motor skills. Early visually directed motor skills develop into the fine eye-hand coordination skills required to catch a ball, tie shoelaces, build with blocks, and hold a pencil to colour and write.

Visual motor dysfunction can cause children to have difficulty copying written work accurately and efficiently, cutting, and drawing.

Can visual information processing skills be improved?

Individuals with reduced visual information processing ability often require vision therapy to improve visual perceptual skills, i.e. the ability to rapidly and accurately process visual information received with each eye movement, and to then store this information in correct sequence for later accurate recall.