The Visual Sensory System and Activities You Can Do At Home

Updated: Apr 6

Simply put, a recap; Sensory Integration or Sensory Processing is the neurological process that organizes sensory information received from one’s own body and the environment making it possible to interact and respond effectively. Sensory Processing is the relationship between the brain and behavior.

kid writing at table activities for visual sensory system by kozie clothes

There are 9 sensory systems:

  • Visual/Eyes

  • Auditory/Sounds

  • Tactile/Touch

  • Taste

  • Smell/Olfactory

  • Vestibular

  • Proprioceptive

  • Gustatory

  • Interoception


Our focus for these activities will be the Visual Sensory System

Simply Put, the Visual Sensory System is the sense of sight. This is a complex system that starts with light waves entering your eyes, sending a chemical signal to the primary visual cortex which is located in the Occipital Lobe of the brain. This is where the signal is then processed and converted into images we see. The Visual Sensory System does not refer to sight damage or Ophthalmic difficulties, including far and near sightedness. If suspect of visual processing sensory issues, eyesight needs to be evaluated and ruled out first.


The Visual Sensory System is responsible for (1) visual processing and visual perception, (2) eye movement control,(3) color, shape, light brightness and contrast, and movement. For our purposes, this does not involve vision related issues such nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatisms leading to the need for glasses or contacts. It also does not refer to diseases, injuries, and disorders related to the eyes. These vision problems should first be evaluated and addressed, since vision issues would prevent the correct information from being interpreted by the brain.


The Visual System is extremely important for gathering information and learning, therefore visual sensory disorders can precipitate school related difficulties, language difficulties, and learning disabilities. It is also important to remember the important relationship between the Visual and Vestibular System when working with children. A trained Occupational Therapist can help provide training in a school setting to help a child make gains in visual integration and learning across all school activities.


There are 8 subtypes of Visual Processing Disorder, which can exist independently or in any combination

  • Visual Discrimination

  • Visual Memory, long and short term

  • Visual Motor Processing

  • Visual Sequential Memory

  • Visual Spatial Processing

  • Visual Figure Ground

  • Visual Form Constancy

  • Visual Closure


Read more here for further clarification on each subtype

Listed are a few characteristics of Visual Processing Dysfunction Issues you might observe in a school setting

  • Difficulty copying from a white board, etc.

  • Nausea when trying to read in the car

  • Poor math skills

  • May complain of tired or hurting eyes

  • Tires easily, or could be fidgety

  • Difficulty with sports, gym class, etc.

  • Difficulty memorizing spelling, what they have read or what they have seen

  • Work performance is sloppy, child seems disorganized

  • Difficulty with eye-hand coordination activities in school or play (examples include copying, writing online or with correct spacing, ball games, building from a model)

  • Reverses letter writing often when not developmentally expected, such as writing d instead of b, and/or reads words out of order

  • Difficulty finding objects in a busy background such as I spy or in the refrigerator, difficulty with puzzles, or trouble extracting certain information from a printed page

  • Difficulty reading and comprehending despite average or above average verbal comprehension

  • Unable to judge distances accurately, this can be displayed as bumping into things easily or trouble pouring liquids

  • Difficulty with fine motor skills such as cutting, art work, tracing, etc.


As mentioned with our previous Simply Put sensory systems blogs, children who have difficulty processing visual information can exhibit hyposensitivity or hypersensitivity. They may present with some of the following characteristics.

redhead avoiding eye contact visual sensory system activities by kozie clothes

Hypersensitive

  • Aversion to bright lights or certain colors

  • Avoiding eye contact

  • Headaches, nausea after reading, watching TV, or computer activities

  • Covering eyes

  • Bumps into things, people, or trips while walking

  • Increased anxiety or emotional behaviors

  • Avoids group play activities

  • Avoids crowded spaces


Hyposensitive

  • Stares into space, stares at objects or light

  • Looks unusually close at objects, or out of the side of their eyes

  • Enjoys bright colors and stimulating images to the point of becoming distracted

  • Shakes their head or engages in movement when reading or doing table tasks, thus increasing their vestibular stimulation

  • Constantly flicks their pencil or other objects back and forth in front of their eyes unwarranted


In the child's daily activities and play time, there are things we can do within their environment to help with Visual Processing

  • If necessary, limit reading and time spent watching TV at night

  • Keep areas clear of clutter

  • Choose either calming or stimulating colors, based on desired response from child

  • Choose natural light when possible and avoid fluorescent lighting

  • Prepare a child with linear calming vestibular activities, such as rocking, swinging, etc.

  • Consider the child’s proper posture during all activities

  • Make sure all instruction is clear and comprehended by the child

  • Use large lettering

  • Engage in activities that will help improve visual processing and keep activities at a level that may slightly challenge, but not frustrate, your child. Here is a list of activities you can do at home. Remember to tailor the activity to your child’s needs and abilities and have FUN!

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  • Imitation games

  • Seek and find

  • Following cooking instructions

  • Tracing

  • Word search

  • Balance beam

  • Weaving, sewing

  • Kick ball

  • Ping pong

  • Puzzles

  • Scavenger Hunt Art activities

  • Origami

  • T-ball, soft ball etc

  • Lego building to visual model

  • I spy

  • Tether ball

  • Badminton

  • Catching fireflies

  • Bubbles

  • Obstacle course

  • Swinging

  • Whisper down the lane

  • Concentration (remember what card was turned over and make a match)

  • Balloon games (balloons travel and float slower than a ball)

  • Throw everyone’s shoes in a big heap and on “go” find and put on your shoes

  • “Complete this Picture”; Have your child draw what is missing or draw the other half of an image

  • Many more!

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