Helping children with dyslexia: Improving visual figure ground

May 13, 2016 Published by

In this series from VisionWorks, we are exploring the visual difficulties often experienced by children with dyslexia. This time, we are looking at visual figure ground perception and how to help your child develop this skill.

Visual figure ground perception is the ability to focus on a specific object within your field of vision (the area a person can see with their eyes fixed in one position). At school, for example, a child will use their visual figure ground perception skills to copy from the board and not be distracted by the bright paintings hanging around it.


People with dyslexia often struggle with poor figure ground and can become easily confused with too much print on the page, affecting their concentration and attention. They may also have difficulty scanning text to find specific information.  


A person with figure ground problems may have difficulty with:

  • concentrating on relevant information and ignoring what is irrelevant
  • shifting their attention appropriately
  • finding specific places e.g. in text, maps or booksnoticing all the relevant words in a question, identifying key words or developing "skim and scan" skills
  • keeping their place when reading, completing a worksheet or copying from the board
  • organising written work and labelling diagrams
  • when completing work on "busy" paper with lots of visual information on, they may omit sections or parts of it

There are lots of activities that can help your child to improve their figure ground skills:

  • Sorting games: Such games can help children to concentrate on specific stimuli, and involve correct identification of size, shape, colour etc. Mix two to three types of items (e.g. pasta / buttons) and ask your child to sort them. At first the objects should differ greatly and then progress to very similar. For example: start with beads / blocks / reels of different size and colour, then progress to, finding a square button in a box of round ones or a blue marble in a box of green ones.
  • Circle the word: Make a worksheet of several rows of designs. Each row contains a word or letter for your child to circle. For example: write uuuutuuuuu and ask the child to find the letter ‘t’.
  • Pick up sticks: Encouraging a child to concentrate on one stick amongst many.
  • Jigsaws: Puzzles can help with this skill as children will have to find the right shaped piece among all the others.
  • Painting by numbers: Again, this helps by encouraging little ones to find all of the spaces for a particular colour.
  • Board games: Snakes and Ladders or Monopoly. Helping them to look at individual spaces on a busy board.
  • Find the hidden object: Games such as I Spy and Where’s Wally are a great way for children to pick out particular objects.
  • Find the shape: Prepare a worksheet containing overlapping objects. Ask your child to outline specific objects, e.g. the red triangle.

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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Categorised in: Uncategorised

This post was written by Anna Taylor

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