Visual-Spatial Difficulties


The National Center for Learning Disabilities (2009) acknowledged several ways the brain recognizes and interprets visual information:

  1. Visual Discrimination – visually distinguishing one object from another
  2. Visual Figure-Ground Discrimination – distinguishing a printed object from its background
  3. Visual Sequencing – recognizing a pattern of symbols, images, or words
  4. Visual Motor Processing – using information taken in by the eyes to coordinate body movements
  5. Visual Memory – recalling information seen recently (short-term memory) or a long time ago (long-term memory)
  6. Visual Closure – identifying an object when only parts of it are exposed
  7. Spatial Relationships – understanding the relationship of an object situated in space to oneself.

Typical Classroom Characteristics with Visual Spatial Processing Difficulties

  • Difficulties finding similarities and differences of letters, colors, shapes and patterns
  • Difficulties with locating specific information on a printed page
  • Difficulties with distinguishing an image from a similar background
  • Difficulties with reading a paragraph: skipping lines, rereading the same line, etc.
  • May reverse letters, numbers, and words
  • Repeats incorrect spelling of familiar words
  • Difficulties remembering number sequences (e.g., locker combinations, phone numbers)
  • Difficulties with letter size and spacing; writing outside the margins or the lines; crowding letters together or spacing them too far apart
  • Difficulties copying from a board or book
  • Bumps into things while moving around
  • Difficulties recognizing objects with missing items (e.g., elephant missing a trunk)
  • May have a poor sense of time
  • Difficulties gathering information from charts, graphs, maps, etc.
  • Has difficulties remembering and differentiating left and right
  • Struggles to assemble puzzles
  • Difficulties with tracing or cutting skills
  • May easily become exhausted with schoolwork

Suggested Responses, Accommodations, and/or Modifications

  • Have a peer to verify that the notes are clear and organized.
  • Give instructions orally to reinforce written ones. 1
  • Practice with locating items within pictures (e.g., “I Spy” books and "Where's Waldo?"). 1
  • While reading, use a sheet of paper or index card to cover up other words to help prevent distraction or confusion. 1
  • Enlarge the print on pages copied from books and worksheets.
  • Provide opportunities for the student to give answers orally.
  • Fluctuate voice, and use hand gestures to enhance lessons and conversations. 1
  • Give an overview of the lesson: beginning, middle, and conclusion so the student can get the “whole picture.” Explain the major concepts, before focusing on the detailed ones.
  • Use computers. Allow the students to use computers to type written assignments and other school work if possible. It is difficult for them to produce neat handwriting and to process the information at the same time.
  • Provide breaks during lectures/writing so the student can reflect on the information.
  • To minimize distractions seat the student at the front of the classroom. Keep work space free of clutter and extra distractions that is not required for the task.
  • Allow them to dictate or tape record written work. Allow use of a tape recorder to record class lectures. Provide copies of notes clearly spaced and written or typed on a page.
  • Give extra time to complete assignments or tests.
  • Use a phonics approach for spelling.
  • Use interactive notebooks – written notes with pictures.
  • Discipline the child in private and be very aware that any negative messages can gravely offend the child causing him/her to withdraw completely. 1
  • Encourage color coding. Color code subjects – everything pertaining to that subject is one color. Encourage the use of highlighters for main points, vocabulary, etc.
  • Encourage asking questions for clarification. Have the child paraphrase information to check for understanding. 1


National Center for Learning Disabilities (2003) Visual Processing Disorders by Age Group. Available online at 1

National Center for Learning Disabilities (2009) Visual Processing Disorders. Available online at 1

Helpful Handouts

Handout: Visual Learning Disabilities. (n.d.) Produced by Memphis Neurology. Available online at 1

Print Version

1 Especially beneficial for parents