Sunday, February 27, 2005

Visual Memory Problems - Unrecognized Causes of School Underachievement

Visual memory problems are woefully underrecognized as the source of school underachievement. If a child has IQ testing by the school district, visual memory problems might appear as lower Performance IQ scores, or a 'non verbal learning disorder' pattern.

It's hard to put yourself into the perspective of a child with visual memory problems, because we usually take our visual memory activities for granted. If we study a picture on the board, then look away, we can talk about it because we remember it. Children with visual memory problems can't do this, though, and even though them may study it carefully (non inattentive), it may be a blank or all jumbled within moments.

Children who have difficulty remembering whether a 'b' looks lik 'b', 'd', 'p', or 'q', may translate what they see into words ("ball stick") to make up for their visual memory problems, but then find that these words can't tell them orientation. Other children may have no trouble with letter recognition, but stumble when it comes to visual landmarks and surroundings, so that they're constantly getting lost, and being overwhelmed by visual material.

Dysgraphic children with visual memory problems may be able to copy sentences well, but draw a blank or tear up their paper when asked to write on their own. Also because some of the pathways that carry visual information in the brain appear to split up into 'where' and 'what' regions, it's possible to have selective memory problems in spatial information and object recognition. Then children might present with curious visual rotation errors while writing or drawing, or disproportionately low scores on IQ or achievement tests that examine picture recognition or memory.

Sometimes visual memory difficulties are more subtle, and only begin to present with problems as a child enters his or her upper elementary or middle school years. Then the increasing amounts of visual information - flowsheets, diagrams, graphs, and graphic figures can be overwhelming. Science class and multi-stepped mathematics can be particularly tough because of the need to remember both detail and spatial organization.

Visual Memory Problems and Dysgraphia
Visual Problems, Reading and Spelling in Low Birthweight Infants
More School Problems in Children with Impaired Auditory and Visual Working Memory


  1. So what is the best way to help a 11.5 yo boy with this type of problem?

    Gifted, dysgraphic, scored below average on: visual sequential memory and visual closure difficulty and some with visual form constancy. (However, scored above average for visual discrimination and visual-spatial relations.)

  2. We're going to have a whole chapter on this in our book, but with sequencing and closure problems, there's a difficulty figuring out the salient features of a visual scene.

    If verbal memory is pretty good, then one thing to try is seeing whether showing them how to translate visual information into words may help. Sometimes using color can break down the visual information into manageable chunks - and then also putting into words so it can be remembered.

    This sort of strategy can be used for all sorts of things - long division, visual diagrams, navigation, etc.

  3. You made reference to having a chapter in your book about this topic and I am wondering if you can provide me with the name of the book and the possible date of release. Recently I have come across a few clients whom I believe would benefit from me increasing my knowledge in this area.

  4. Hi Kara,

    Our book is The Mislabeled Child and its available through in paperback or hardcover. There is an entire chapter on visual processing - it includes a discussion of visual memory and visual perceptual disorders.

    Thanks for asking!

  5. Focus, memory and concentration problems might be helped by supplements and all, but I wish it were that simple. As you've indicated disorders on visual processing can be very detrimental to a learner.

  6. hey, does any one of you have powerpoint on visual sequential memory?

    1. Hi sirius, we don't have a powerpoint, but Coltheart has a powerpoint which includes a little bit about visual sequential memory...