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What Is a Visual Learning Disability?

By Tara Barnett
Updated Feb 10, 2024
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A visual learning disability is a disability that is related to vision but that does not include an inability to physically see. Generally, this means that the person's eyes take in light in a way that would be considered normal but that the information involved in seeing is somehow misunderstood or scrambled by the brain. Sometimes, this type of disorder is called a visual processing disorder because the issue is in the way in which the information is understood, not in how it is captured. Many different types of visual learning disabilities exist, and many involve difficulties in comprehending written language.

One of the defining characteristics of a visual learning disability is that the problem does not lie in the physical inability to see. A person who is blind or who needs glasses does not have a visual learning disability. Instead, the visual learning disability lies in the processing of the visual information received. Subjectively, a person might not see information in a normative way or may be unable to focus on specific parts of the information.

In many cases, a visual learning disability impairs a student's ability to read and learn from visual information. Some students compensate by using auditory methods, but others are unable to work around this problem, leading to poor performance in school and sometimes misbehavior. This particular learning disability is often confused with attention deficit disorder (ADD) because of the student's perceived inability to focus.

One of the major problems with diagnosing a visual learning disability is that it is difficult to sort out which problems relate to effort and which problems relate to ability. A student who does not try to learn to read is different from one who literally cannot process the visual information, but both present similar outcomes. In many cases, the student's character is questioned before a learning disability is proposed, which can be damaging to the self-confidence of a young student. There are some tests and specialists that can attempt to determine where the problem lies specifically.

Treating a visual learning disability depends on the precise way in which a person is disabled. Most of the time, the disability is aided by practice and special exercises that focus on the problematic area. The treatment for dyslexia, for example, is different than the treatment for a more general visual processing disorder even though both problems are related to the eyes. Treatments for these disabilities are constantly improving, and special clinics exist to help children achieve educational and personal success even with a disability.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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