REVIEWED BY NUMBERDYSLEXIA’S EXPERT PANEL ON DECEMBER 26, 2022
Is a penguin and a polar bear the exact same thing?
The answer is they are not. Even though they are both animals found in regions with extreme temperatures and snow. A penguin is a bird and a polar bear is an animal. They both look different as well as behave differently.
Such is the difference between Dyslexia and Visual Processing concerns. Even though they can sometimes appear together, with an individual having both concerns, their individual symptoms and characteristics are completely different.
This blog will illustrate the differences between Dyslexia and Visual Processing concerns as well as some tips and tricks to help navigate the latter.
Dyslexia and Visual Processing: Two sides of the same coin?
Dyslexia is a developmental learning difference characterized by trouble with reading various words and sentences. Individuals with dyslexia have phonological differences which make it difficult for them to process certain sounds and words. These difficulties can have repercussions for their spelling, writing, and speaking skills too.
Visual Processing difficulties lead to the individual having trouble recognizing and differentiating between letters and words that look the same and confusing with written signs and symbols like the ones involved in mathematics. Here the difficulty presents itself because there are differences in the way the individual is perceiving information visually, instead of phonologically. Just like dyslexia does not happen because of hearing issues, visual processing difficulties are also not associated with issues with vision. Additionally, neither of these concerns are representative measures of intelligence and other cognitive abilities.
Studies have found that a significant number of individuals with dyslexia have visual processing issues too. When these concerns exist comorbidly, they can cause increased difficulties with learning and using language, having severe repercussions for the individual’s development.
Even though these concerns can happen together, it is important to distinguish between them because they present themselves differently and benefit from different types of aids and accommodations.
Similarities and differences explored
Even though Dyslexia and difficulties with Visual Processing are different from each other. They do have some things in common, such as:
1. Neither of them can be outgrown
Both Dyslexia and Visual Processing difficulties occur due to various differences in the cognitive processing systems. Neither of these concerns has a cure and neither can just be outgrown with age. Once noticed, both of these require immediate diagnosis so that appropriate accommodations can be introduced that can help the individual navigate the concern.
2. Different symptoms and difficulties for different people
Just like no two people with dyslexia are the same, the same is the case with individuals who have trouble with visual processing. Different people with visual processing can show different symptoms like having trouble seeing the lines in order or confusing similar-looking signs, letters or words, etc.
3. Cause trouble with learning
Both of these concerns have repercussions for the individual’s education. They can both cause significant trouble with reading, understanding, spelling, and writing in any and every language. Additionally, troubles with visual processing can also lead to problems with understanding and differentiating mathematical signs and symbols.
There are, of course, several differences among these concerns as well. Some of these include:
4. Different symptoms
Individuals with dyslexia might have trouble with reading, saying, or even recognizing and differentiating between words that sound similar. Whereas individuals with visual processing difficulties can sometimes confuse the words or letters that look the same, be unable to read words that are placed too close together, etc.
5. Different causes
Dyslexia is primarily a phonological issue that leads to trouble in processing parts of the language that are heard. While visual processing concerns lead to trouble with processing things that are seen.
6. Different accommodations
For individuals with dyslexia, accommodations in school usually look like giving extra time while taking down notes or giving an exam. But for individuals with visual processing difficulties, accommodations may take the form of an auditory mode of teaching and assessment instead of written.
Tips and tricks to help with visual processing
Visual Processing concerns do not have a cure but they can definitely be managed using several aids and accommodations. Some helpful tools to navigate the concern could include:
1. Go Digital
Instead of sticking to paper and pencil, make the classes as digital as possible. The option of using a tablet to study instead of a tightly spaced, filled with extra information books, can be a lifesaver for individuals with visual processing concerns.
While reading the material on an app, they will have the option to choose the font design and size that best suits their needs. Additionally, they can just stick to the material they need and delete all the irrelevant information that might be crowding their senses and taking attention away from the main topic.
2. Type instead of write
While making notes, the more environment-friendly as well as accessible to individuals with visual processing concerns option would be to type instead of write.
Typing can help them easily differentiate between letters, signs, and symbols they usually get confused with. While typing, individuals can also color code their words to further help them in distinguishing and understanding. This can help them keep up with the pace of the rest of the class and not feel confused or left behind.
3. Switch to audiobooks
Audiobooks or typed-out notes and course material that is text-to-speech friendly can greatly help individuals who have visual processing concerns.
Feeling confused multiple times while trying to read something can impact the individual’s confidence as well as actual comprehension of the material. They will get so caught up in trying to differentiate between two words that they will end up forgetting what they might have understood so far and eventually lose interest.
In situations like these, audiobooks can help enhance the educational experience and the learning outcomes that come from it.
If digital solutions are not feasible for the individual or the institution, it might be helpful to pair them with a study buddy.
This buddy can help the individual with visual processing concerns by sharing their notes, in case they missed something and reading the textbook out loud for them.
In return, the individual can share their insights on a topic, increasing both the individual’s learning and knowledge.
Learning how to write is also an essential skill. So, when the lesson requires the individual to use paper and pencil, the materials can be customized to circumvent their concerns.
Using materials like colored pens and pencils, wide-ruled notebooks and even textured paper can provide individuals with visual processing concerns the much-needed aid and assistance.
Dyslexia and Visual Processing Concerns are both differences that can create significant learning issues for the individual. While neither of these has any cures, they can be managed through early identification and intervention. Visual Processing concerns can be navigated using various techniques like going digital, using audiobooks, typing instead of writing, pairing with study buddies, and customizing the stationary to fit the needs of the learner.