What is it and why do we need it?
Vision Information Processing or Vision Perception refers to our ability to extract, select and analyse visual information. Our ability to see, that is vision, is not just a pair of eyes making a copy of the images they see. It is a very complicated brain process.
To “see” a person needs to extract huge quantities of information and data from their own body and the world around them. This information is then integrated as a whole from the different senses of the body and we make decisions on where we are and what we need to move or do next. For example the simple act of driving involves the integration of various brain parts…peripheral visual information tells us whether a car is approaching from the side. Our central vision tells us things like: how fast we are going by reading the speedometer or by looking at the lights to decide if we can go or need to stop. We are also constantly using auditory (hearing) information and using our touch to hit the brakes or change the gears. Our brains work very hard to integrate or put together ‘bits’ of information, and it also decides ‘which bits of information’ are more important to us.
Learning to read and write is also a complicated brain process involving multiple systems of the brain just like driving. Our visual perceptual skills are needed in learning and day to day tasks, and the optometrists and therapists at Berwick Family Eyecare have the ability to test, and train these skills if indicated, with vision therapy.
Visual Spatial Skills
Visual spatial skills are important for the development of good motor coordination, balance, and directional senses. Laterality is an internal, self- awareness that we have two body sides the right and left. Directionality is when a person can apply left and right concepts to their environment or external space, so not just understanding our own bodies, but where our bodies are in relation to everything else. This not only includes left and right awareness, but up, down, forwards and backwards.
Knowing our left and right sides of the body and knowing where we are in relation to other objects is not something we should have to think about, but something that comes automatically. Some people can develop these skills on their own, others require training to learn and to make it automatic.
Visual spatial skills are important in discriminating between different numbers and letters for example, when we look at a letter “p” or “q” we use our visual spatial and analysis skills to be able to tell the difference.
Visual Analysis Skills
Visual analysis skills allow us to analyse and discriminate between visually presented information. Early in life a child uses visual analysis to recognise familiar faces and toys. As the child grows he or she develops the ability to analyse and comprehend more abstract shapes like letters and numbers.
Visual analysis skills help us from getting confused when we try to tell the difference between for example, “was” and “saw”. We know these two words are different even though they contain the same letters, just in a different order. This visual discrimination helps us tell the difference between objects by analysing its distinctive features including its size, shape and colour.
Our visual memory skills are important to help us recall what we have seen prior. Visual closure is the ability to visualize a complete whole when given incomplete information. It helps us understand things quickly as we can determine what something is before we get the complete picture. When we are reading these skills help us recognise ‘sight’ words.
Visualization is the process of using all these skills, the complete classification and storage of the short and long term memory and the manipulation of these recalled images. If visual development is incomplete, due to something like strabismus (‘turned eye’), then the classification, or filing system, will be inaccurate. The child may ‘file’ three different views of the word ‘cat’ , as it depends on which eye is viewing the task at the time, and then the recall and manipulation of these images will be slower and erratic in the future.
Figure ground is the ability to attend to a feature of something while shutting out the irrelevant background. This is especially helpful if we are presented with a whole lot of information at the one time, as we can quickly and easily pick out the bits relevant to us. Children with poor figure ground skills usually have difficulty learning the alphabet, trouble with math concepts, confusion with similar words and difficulty with spelling.
Visual Motor Integration
Visual motor integration or eye hand coordination is an important skill that we use in our day to day lives; catching a ball, playing sport, handwriting, using scissors and even tying up our shoelaces.
The unique ability of the brain to change, which is referred to as neuroplasticity, allows us to train your visual perceptual skills. By giving you specialised exercises the brain can form new connections and generate new brain cells in response to experience and learning. Stimulating these systems of the brain through experience and learning at a young age is vital. It is possible, through vision therapy, to improve these skills at any age.
Successful learning requires positive re-enforcement and encouragement. It is important not only to read to children but to read in front of them. They look up to adults and they often try to mimic the things we do. We need to show them that learning and reading is a positive experience that brings knowledge and enjoyment. If you are not enthusiastic about reading, it will probably be more difficult for your children to be.
Children are not automatically taught to consider words at a level other than their meaning but these things are important to learn how to read. Learning rhymes and singing to them at a young age is an important experience for children to play with the structure of words.
The older a child is before a learning related vision problem is identified the larger the impact will be on their schooling. Early intervention can reduce the impact of a learning related vision problem. If detected and treated later, it is more difficult for a child to catch up. They will most likely require intensive tutoring to learn to read to the point where they can read words accurately and automatically, to be able to understand or comprehend what they are reading. It is important to learn to read, but it is even more important to read to learn.