Visual spatial processing is an individual’s ability to process visual stimuli to comprehend spatial relationships between objects and to visualize different scenarios or images.

Visual spatial skills help individuals find their orientation in space through taking in information from the world around them and organizing that visual information to create an understanding of meaningful patterns.

Cognitive functions are cerebral activities or brain-based skills supported by neuronal networks that allow individuals to carry out simple to complex tasks. Cognitive functions include; perception, attention, memory, motor skills, language, executive functions, and visual-spatial processing.

Visual spatial processing is an individual’s ability to process visual stimuli to comprehend spatial relationships between objects and to visualize different scenarios or images. Visual spatial skills help individuals find their orientation in space through taking in information from the world around them and organizing that visual information to create an understanding of meaningful patterns.

Challenges in the cognitive area of visual-spatial processing may be a lifelong weakness as it not only affects an individual’s ability to learn but also their ability to participate in ordinary activities.

Scientists have identified eight different types of visual processing issues that often go undetected because they tend to be complex and do not show up on vision tests. These areas are described as; visual discrimination, visual figure ground discrimination, visual sequencing, visual-motor processing, long or short term visual memory, visual spatial, visual closure, and letter and symbol reversal.

Weaknesses in these areas impact a student’s academic performance, emotional state, and life skills. Common symptoms of visual processing issues are; difficulty paying attention to visual tasks, easily distracted by too much visual stimuli, difficulty with reading, writing, and math as well as letter, number and symbol discrimination, straining or rubbing eyes often, bumping into objects, etc. Many instructional, environmental and assessment strategies as well as visual-spatial activities can be incorporated into the classroom setting to accommodate weaknesses, strengthen skills and reduce signs and symptoms of visual processing challenges.

Diagnosing visual-spatial challenges can be difficult. Should weaknesses present themselves, individuals are encouraged to see a pediatric ophthalmologist, pediatric optometrist, neuropsychologist, or a behavioral optometrist for further evaluation and a vision therapy plan.

Strategies to consider when working on visual spatial skills and cognitive challenges

  • Learn as much as you can
  • Observe and take notes
  • Write out schedules or instructions clearly
  • Offer lots of practice
  • Celebrate victories

Learn more about cognitive function: visual spatial processing in Dr. Wieder and Dr. Wach’s Book Visual/Spatial Portals to Thinking, Feeling and Movement.