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Helping children with dyslexia: Improving visual discrimination

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


Dyslexia: Visual Discrimination

Visual discrimination is the ability to recognise details in images. It allows people to identify the size, shape, form, colour or position of objects and printed material. Visual discrimination skills also enable people to identify likenesses and differences between specific images.

For children, much of how they learn is through visual observation. Every book or nature walk is an adventure, as they take in the variety of shapes, colours, people, and animals they encounter. Strong visual discrimination skills are essential because they enable children to observe details in their environment.

To be able to read, we need to be able to distinguish the letters which make up our language. As people become familiar with written language, they will become aware of the fact that words are groups of letters separated by spaces. They must then notice that letters are different to numbers, and they learn the names of all the letters. To be able to do this, you must be able to recognise distinct characteristics of each letter symbol. While most adults do this with ease, some children, particularly those with dyslexia, can struggle to distinguish and therefore to recognise and name the letter E, for example, when it is so similar to the letter F, the letter L or even the letter H.

Visual discrimination skills are also important in many other areas of life. Think about the learning that takes place throughout a school day as children observe their environment, science experiments, demonstrations in physical education class, stories told with accompanying pictures to discuss and so on. Even such basic things as learning the names of new classmates and recognising which locker and coat hook is theirs depend on strong visual discrimination skills.


There are lots of activities that can help your child to improve their visual discrimination skills:

  • Read books about opposites. Discuss with your child the differences between the two pictures. This helps children learn the concept of same and different.
  • Read picture books and discuss the pictures with your child. Ask them to tell you what they see in the pictures and then ask your child to find specific things in the pictures.
  • Look through magazines with your child and ask them to point out specific objects. Begin with easy to spot items and increase the difficulty as your child’s confidence increases. Then ask them to see if they can stump you by requesting that you find something on the page
  • Play I Spy by giving your child clues about something within view. Increase the difficulty as your child becomes more skillful by spying things that are partially hidden or small in size. This is a great game to play when you have a few spare minutes, such as standing in a queue at the supermarket, or in the doctor’s waiting room
  • Give your child a pile of clean socks and ask him/her to match socks together to make pairs. You can make this activity more challenging by mixing two sizes of socks in the pile.
  • Use the cards from a matching or memory game to practice matching identical pictures
  • Show your child pictures that develop in a sequence and ask him/her to place the pictures in the correct order. Your child will have to look closely at the pictures to complete this task
Article kindly contributed by Sarah Evans MMedSci, BSc(Hons) of VisionWorks.
Sarah is a consultant orthoptist working in Jersey and specialises in visual screening, diagnosis and management of visually related specific learning difficulties.