Visual Attention

There is a common saying that some people see the forest, while others see the trees. This means that some people tend to pay attention to the big picture, while other people tend to pay attention to all the little details.

To have a static set of behavior by which a person pays attention to either the forest or the trees would be beneficial in some activities and a handicap in others. Static patterns of visual attention may mimic such conditions as ADD, PDD, or high functioning autism.

The most functional pattern would be a person with have a dynamic set of behaviors, who could shift visual attention from “big picture” to “details” when appropriate.


Poor Central Visual Attention (Paying Attention To The Forest)

Other children develop just the opposite adaptation for binocular vision dysfunction. They may learn to concentrate on the big picture visually and ignore the details. Such a child may appear to be careless or “lazy.” It is frustrating their parents, because they may see a child who can pick up general concepts easily, achieve moderate success learning very quickly, but seem to have difficultly ever achieving excellence.

In general, eye movement issues in conjunction with patterns of visual attention disorders are more difficult to treat. Peripheral visual attention disorders are more difficult to treat than central visual attention disorders.

Does your child exhibit any of the following behaviors?

  • If left alone, homework is completed quickly with frequent apparently careless mistakes
  • Quickly gets organized and starts get projects (fast starter), but may have difficulty completing them accurately.
  • Reads quickly but often doesn’t read what is on the page, clipping letters off the ends of words, or apparently guess on words that are not known, as opposed to sounding them out.
  • Good comprehension for concepts but missed the details
  • Gets the general idea of projects quickly but fails to achieve mastery or excellence
  • Writing is fast and messy
  • Reading speed is often fast with poor comprehension
  • Often good with sports but having difficulty in school

Poor Peripheral Visual Attention (Paying Attention To The Trees)

Children who have excessive concentration on central visual information are often easy to identify because on apparent inconsistencies in academic performance. These children can appear to be "perfectionists" and given enough time, may be capable of producing incredibly detailed work. Problems can occur because they can be slow to finish their work and may sometimes appear to miss central concepts of their assignments.

Parent’s may comment that their child get either’s "A's" or "F's"… doing a great job on one assignment, while not even turning anything in on the next.

Young children with excessive central visual attention may find that is easy for them to identify words, but hard for them to find the words, and read them in text. They may find it difficult to pay attention to location, which can results in errors of location, orientation, sequence, or direction when writing or reading. When oral reading text, it is common to see young children with excessive attention to central visual information be able to read large (advanced) words, while making frequent mistakes with "small" basic kindergarten sight words.

If these patterns of visual attention are found in conjunction with one of a dozen patterns of binocular vision dysfunction, it is likely that there is a relationship between the two.

Binocular vision dysfunction may result in discomfort when reading and writing.

A child could learn that concentrating on visual details and ignoring “the big picture” could result in less awareness of double and greater visual comfort. Children who settle on this option, assume a pattern of behavior that makes them more comfortable, at the expense of making them less functional for certain activities.

Does your child exhibit any of the following behaviors?

  • Homework that should be done in a few minutes often takes hours to complete
  • Takes a long time to get organized (slow starter)
  • Reads large words in words lists but misses small words in text
  • Skips words, skips lines, or re-reads words in text
  • Perfectionist and slow but often has difficulty grasping concepts
  • Trouble writing on the line, letters of different size, spacing is poor
  • Slow reading speed or lack of fluency, reads one word at a time
  • Difficulty with letters involving sequence or direction, b/d, was/saw, or 12/21
  • Difficulty playing ball games or with hand-eye coordination

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