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  • Writer's pictureDr Chris Moore

Tips for Sensory Needs - Visual

What is the Visual Sense?

The visual sense governs our ability to understand and interpret visual information, using receptors in our eyes.

Carol Stock Kranowitz nicely outlines the importance of this sense in her book “The Out-of-Sync Child”. She references how our eyes account for 80% of the information we take in from our surroundings. When considering how we communicate with others, around 55% comes from our ability to perceive a person’s facial expressions and body language. Perhaps the most relevant statistic cited by Carol, in terms of the school environment, is that between 75 to 90% of classroom learning is dependent on vision.

Visual processing is linked to our ability to detect changes in light and to anticipate and react to movement. It provides us with information about where we are in time and space. It’s important to differentiate difficulties with visual processing from a diagnosed visual impairment. In this post, we’ll look at simple classroom accommodations for children who are over-responsive or under-responsive to Visual input in school.

What are the implications for a child who is over-responsive to Visual input?

These children are often sensitive to bright flickering lights and glare. They are easily distracted by visual clutter (wall displays, books, nearby toys) and struggle to locate and focus on a specific object in a busy background. When reading or copying information from the whiteboard, it can be easy for them to lose their place. Some children may be reluctant to lie down in the PE hall due to the uncomfortable input from overhead lights. Others can be overwhelmed by movement around them as they navigate busy corridors or the playground.

How can we help children in school who are over-responsive to Visual input?

· Think about where the child is seated in the classroom. Consider having them at the front of the classroom, with their back to the majority of their peers and close to good role models whose movements are relatively settled.

· Have the child’s desk positioned away from strong sources of light or turn off overhead lights in that area of the room if possible. Some children with Autism who are particularly distressed by light may benefit from wearing a cap or sunglasses.

· When giving instructions to the child, be mindful of visual clutter in the vicinity. Stand in front of a blank wall or canvass, as a means of reducing the possibility for the child to become distracted when watching you.

· Consider your clothing and whether a snazzy shirt or dress may be over-stimulating for the child! Talk and work with the child at eye level in these circumstances.

· Worksheets should be differentiated. This may involve reducing the amount of questions or written information on the sheet or concealing parts to be completed at a later stage. The use of white space around a particular question, or a frame which blocks out the rest of the page, may aid the child’s ability to focus on specific items.

· Incorporate opportunities to complete tasks at an individual workstation. This should be in a less visually stimulating area of the classroom, so that the child has a break from visual input. Similarly, identify areas of the playground where seating or concrete barriers can reduce their visibility of large moving crowds.

What are the implications for a child who is under-responsive to Visual input?

These children struggle to find objects which are right in front of them and may stare intensely. They don’t easily recognise when a ball or object is heading towards them or judge distances accurately. Poor colouring and handwriting may be the result of difficulties with perceiving and staying within the lines on a page. Copying from the whiteboard can also be difficult for under-responsive children, because they have difficulty holding the image in mind long enough. Some may not initially recognise facial expressions or hand signals. Others may crave bright and light-emitting toys or spin objects repeatedly to obtain higher levels of visual stimulation.

How can we help children in school who are under-responsive to Visual input?

· We should ensure that one area of the classroom is brightly decorated and visually stimulating (or establish an alternative space which is similarly decorated, which is available for the child to go to), whilst reducing visual clutter in other areas.

· Visual input will be important in communicating with and directing the child. There should be increased use of picture cues, visual schedules or objects of reference. Bright and coloured tape can help to clearly mark boundaries and positions during sports and other physical activities.

· We will need to support these children in their application of organisational skills. This can be achieved through visual labelling and photographs to help them locate specific materials and equipment in the classroom. Checklists with pictures may help them to prepare for a task or manage their belongings.

· Colour coding and highlighting can help to make written information stand out on worksheets. Heavy lined paper may enable them to apply a consistent size of letter formation and lay out number sums more accurately. During writing tasks, model effective finger spacing through physical gesture, visual marking or a concrete object which can be moved between the words.

· Multi-sensory practise with letter formation and spacing will be important. Consider opportunities for writing in a variety of formats (e.g. sand, paint, whiteboards, chalk, shaving foam). A slanted writing board may improve the angle of their pencil to the page.

· For those children who engage in staring episodes or frequently inspect objects close to eye level, we should provide regular sensory breaks where they can play with bright and colourful toys/objects which can be moved or spun. These breaks may help to increase their overall alertness and can be useful for refreshing their concentration after a period of work.

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