Tips for parents on supporting a child with dyslexia

April 14, 2016 Published by

Welcome to the first in a series of articles from VisionWorks, outlining the visual problems that dyslexic children can face.

visual-perception-child-looking-at-lakeVisual perception is the ability to interpret, analyse and give meaning to what is seen. It is a set of skills we use to gather visual information from the environment and integrate them with our other senses, past experiences, motivation and development, so we can derive understanding and meaning from what we are experiencing and what we see.

Visual perceptual difficulties may be connected to physical eye issues, but even children with 20/20 vision can struggle to organise visual information and develop the visual perceptual skills necessary to establish a strong foundation for learning.

Difficulties with visual perception mean that you can’t make sense of what you see. Your brain makes an error in processing the information which the eye takes in; it struggles to recognise, organise, interpret, and/or remember the visual images it has just looked at. This presents a monumental challenge to learning, since the difficulty affects a whole spectrum including letters, words, maths symbols, diagrams, maps, graphs, and charts. It is often not until a child enters school that visual perceptual problems are detected.


Visual perception is broken down into several areas; a child with dyslexia may have particular weaknesses in any of the following areas. Click on the links below for more information and activities to support your child's skills in that area:

The ability to distinguish similarities and differences between objects like letters (d, b) or shapes. In reading, this skill helps you distinguish between similarly spelled words, such as was/saw, then/when, on/one, or run/ran. 

The ability to recall characteristics of what is or has been seen. This skill helps a person remember what they read and see by processing information through their short term memory and filtering that information into their long term memory.

The ability to distinguish differences among similar shapes and forms. This skill helps with understanding relationships and recognising underlying concepts, and is closely related to the problem solving and conceptual skills required for higher-level science and mathematics.

The ability to mentally manipulate forms and visualise the resulting outcomes. This skill helps people distinguish differences in size, shape, and orientation. People with poor form-constancy may frequently reverse letters and numbers.

The ability to determine or remember the order of symbols, words, or objects. This skill is particularly important for spelling.

The ability to locate a single object within a complex background. This skill keeps you from getting lost in details. A person with poor figure-ground becomes easily confused with too much print on the page, affecting their concentration and attention, and may have difficulty scanning text to find specific information.

The ability to know what an object is when only parts of it are visible. This skill helps you read and comprehend; your eyes don't have to individually process every letter in a word for them to quickly recognise the word by sight. This skill can also help a person recognise inferences and predict outcomes. People with poor visual closure may confuse words with similar beginnings or endings.

Tracking involves making your eyes follow incoming information and processing it in your brain to get the correct meaning. People with dyslexia often have problems focusing on letters and numbers and following them on the page, which can impair the ability to read and learn.

Article kindly contributed by Sarah Evans MMedSci, BSc(Hons)

Sarah is a consultant orthoptist working in Jersey and specialises in visual screening, diagnosis and management of visually related specific learning difficulties.


child reading by anthony kelly

Published: May 2016

Edited by: Anna Taylor

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This post was written by Anna Taylor

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