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How Visual Processing Affects Reading.

Frequent writer for the Studying With Dyslexia Blog, Georgina Smith has recently discovered some interesting things about the way that she reads and how she has been able to put strategies together to overcome some of the challenges associated with visual processing.Whilst it is controversial to talk about this in terms of dyslexia, it sounds like with all things SpLD we are living with multiple issues that need to be addressed. 


Georgina writes:


I’ve been a dyslexia assessor for around 15 yrs and have always been aware of visual processing difficulties.  As time has gone on I started to notice more things about myself.  I always new I was terrible at ball games, my hand eye coordination was appalling, always the last to be chosen for the team, in sports at school.  Yet I did ok a gymnastics.

It was as an adult when I started to learn ballroom and latin dance and progressed to learning to be a dance teacher when I really began to notice problems with laterality.  Ask me to show you my right hand, I may wiggle it momentarily to check it is the one I write with.
However ask me to stand opposite, face to face, with my dance instructor and repeat her movements and I realised I couldn’t do it automatically.  I also started to realise that my visual memory for retaining our dance sequences was poor, I could only really do it through muscle memory.  It was when I started to notice I lost my balance when turning.  I’ve also driven for nearly 30 years, yet sometimes I could look at a car and not automatically know which would be the driver side.  I would even go to get in the car to drive and head for the passenger seat!

I was never in the ‘top set’ in maths during school but I did ok, I was fine at adding up in my head, was great at money management but I knew I couldn’t always remember the formulas for more complex maths.
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I am also a very hands on kind of a girl and pride myself on being able to do DIY, once I was shown what to do.  But ask me to read  a manual and put the flat pack together and I was lost.  I put it down to laziness that I couldn’t be bother to try as it just wasn’t my thing working such things out.

When it comes to replicating patterns in 2D shapes I found that I panicked.  I could see shapes of course but I just couldn’t figure out how to achieve them.  I recall being 16 and taking a college entrance exam, which I failed, as part of it was to identify the next one/pattern in the sequence.  I went on to gain a degree, masters and post graduate qualifications but they didn’t test me on things such as patterns!

Recently I also noticed that geometric shapes really played havoc with me, people had to cover up their stripy tops.  My new office has vertical blinds which are white, I noticed at night the contrast against the darkness outside just made my eyeballs feel like they were vibrating!

Part of my work requires me to analyses test results and look at charts and numbers and I find myself triple checking to make sure I have followed the columns correctly as sometimes they appear to ‘blur’ or ‘cross over’

Around 16 yrs ago I met a colleague, a behavioral optometrist, who analyses visual processing.  He’s taught me lots over the years.  He recently invited me in to experience some of the tests he performs on the students I refer to him.  I asked him to conduct an in-depth evaluation of my vision as thing were starting to ‘add up’.

I was startled when he told me that my eyes were not responding in the usual way.  It became apparent that ‘I couldn’t see the trees for the wood’.  No I haven’t written that old saying wrong.  It appears that although my eyes can see information, my brain can not process it.  I can’t process the finer details from the big picture. 

In addition my eyes do not track words sequentially, they jump around from word to word on a page.  Now I always knew I was a slow reader and felt I needed to re-read to comprehend better.  At university I could fall asleep within 15 minutes if I started to read.  I simply put this down to being bored reading ‘dry’ law books.  I never was a fan of reading!  However given my eyes skip all over the page it is no wonder I don’t comprehend and I get tired when reading.  My brain is processing snippits of information and trying to put together the pieces of the jigsaw.  It is no wonder I didn’t comprehend and made silly mistakes predicting words and was often unable to proof read.  I simply thought because I was bored reading I was skim reading and trying to pick out key words.

Just over a year ago I came across SprintPlus text to speech software.  I have started to develop my own programme for dyslexia called CodeBreakers, to work alongside SprintPlus.  As a result I’ve been using SprintPlus to proof my reports.

I like SprintPlus as previously it took me nearly 2 hrs to proof a 10,000 page report.  I would drift off, not be focused and easily distracted.  I would still miss my typing errors.  SprintPlus now read my documents to me and I could listen for mistakes rather than look for them.



However what I hadn’t realised , but I do now in the light of my diagnosis, is that the additional benefit is ,SprintPlus highlights each word as it is reading to me, it makes me stay focused on each word, rather than my eyes ‘dancing’ around the page.  Hence I’m quicker and more accurate proof reading.

Visual processing assessments aren’t conducted by an standard optician.   They are looking for long/short sightedness.  I see my optician every two years and it has never once been mentioned.

The unusual part is I functioned well at school, performed averagely, gained GCSEs and went on in later life to go to university.  I would describe myself as not a natural learner or academic but I get by.  It usually takes me a bit longer than some to pass exams but I get there and with an average mark.  I only wonder now at 40 something, how things may have been different.

How can I get in contact with Georgina?

Georgina can be contacted via her website by clicking here, or you could attend her workshop at the SEN Jigsaw Conference 2018.

Book your place today - Click here.


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