How do you know if you have a visual processing difficulty?

I’ve been a dyslexia tutor for over 10 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 at 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 really began to question myself, as a child I’d always been active with gymnastics etc and really ought to have been able to turn without wobbling.  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 have often got in the passenger side (not helpful when you plan to drive!).  When I come to pull out of a junction I find it a real struggle to process how quickly a car is travelling.

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.  At the local quiz I never bother to attempt the maths questions.

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 bothered 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!  Geometric shapes on wallpaper just make me feel sick!

Geometric patterns

Geometric patterns

Part of my work requires me to analyse 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’

Table Formats

Table Formats

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 easily, need to re-read and I get tired when reading.  My brain is processing snippets of information and trying to put together the pieces of the jigsaw.  It is no wonder I 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.

Previously, I would drift off, not be focused and easily distracted.  I would still miss my typing errors.  Text to speech now reads my documents to me and I can listen for mistakes rather than look for them. The words are also highlighted so I can easily look up and check the errors too.

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.  I’ve now also learned to triple check emails etc before sending them.

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 little 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 had I had assistive software, reasonable adjustments or extra time in classes.