Visual and Auditory Processing in Dyslexia

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This article will draw attention to visual and auditory processing in dyslexia by focusing on concepts such as visual and auditory processing disorders and how they are similar to dyslexia, it will offer definitions of these terms and it will offer examples of challenges encountered by diagnosed people, to create a clearer picture of these conditions, and it will offer possible solutions for dealing with and reducing the symptoms individuals may experience.

What is visual and auditory processing disorder and is it similar to dyslexia?

According to The National Center for Learning Disabilities, visual and auditory processing disorders are perceptual disorders related to the inability to process visual and auditory information. These processes are mostly connected to recognising and interpreting information taken through senses such as sight and sound. The most common issues associated with learning disabilities also include visual and auditory perception difficulties. Therefore, it is important to understand the differences between these processing disorders.

Visual processing disorder refers to the inability to process the information taken through the eyes. It is important to keep in mind that this disorder is different from problems involving sight or vision sharpness. Thus, the inability to process visual information affects the way it is interpreted and how the brain processes it.

Auditory processing disorder describes the individual’s inability to process information taken through the ears. This disorder is different from other hearing problems such as deafness. Therefore, auditory processing is related to how the brain interprets the sounds, and not what is heard by the ear.
Additionally, a common learning disability is dyslexia which affects individuals’ ability to read and write. One study’s results indicated that about half of the participants with dyslexia also showed visual processing deficits. Hence, orthographic processing of information may be associated with both dyslexia and visual processing disorder.

What are possible visual processing challenges for people with Dyslexia?

The British Dyslexia Association claimed that individuals diagnosed with dyslexia may encounter visual difficulties while reading such as text appearing blurred, headaches and eyestrain, text appearing to shimmer, and contrast between background and text to name a few.

Visual processing challenges can affect individuals’ abilities to understand and process written information, causing problems in their learning journey. However, dyslexia can raise difficulties in breaking spoken language down into its parts, affecting reading and spelling. Even though these two conditions look similar, they have different root causes and individuals who experience them may require different strategies to deal with the symptoms. Research studies discovered that people who have dyslexia may also encounter some form of difficulty with visually processing information. When people experience both dyslexia and visual processing disorder, their auditory and visual processing of language may be impacted too. For example, children may struggle to recognise letters, develop their vocabulary, and read words. These challenges may negatively affect people’s learning, impacting their self-esteem and confidence. Identifying these disorders as soon as possible may play a positive role in setting the most suitable environment and strategy for an individual’s needs.

What are possible auditory processing challenges for people with Dyslexia?

The Auditory Processing Center mentioned on its website that around 70% of people who experience dyslexia have an underlying auditory processing disorder. Additionally, the National Institute of Health claimed that of children who have learning difficulties, around 43% have auditory processing challenges. Furthermore, 25% of them have been diagnosed with dyslexia, meaning that these conditions share similar symptoms.

Some of the possible auditory processing challenges for people with dyslexia may include difficulties in manipulating sounds in words (for example, the “p” in “pig” may be understood as “b”, and for that reason, the word will be perceived as “big”), obstacles in spelling words phonetically, and difficulties in understanding stories that have been told to them without any visual information, and other difficulties in sound processing.

Similar to visual processing challenges, it is important to highlight the significance of receiving intact auditory messages, especially in learning. Undiagnosed auditory processing disorder or dyslexia may lead to academic problems and may negatively impact results from language therapies which are meant to remediate language and reading disorders.

What is the connection between dyslexia and visual processing?

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Whilst dyslexia refers to persons’ difficulties in reading because of phonemic deficits, visual processing refers to difficulties with how the eyes perceive the information. For example, children may normally pass their eye tests because they can visually perceive the stimuli, even though their brain is not able to process them correctly.

Some professionals said that the term “reading disorder” may not be interpreted as having dyslexia. Another example could be a child who is not able to properly read, and the parents assume that their child may have dyslexia. In this case, it is important to understand that dyslexia is one of the most common learning disorders, and is associated with reading difficulties.

A common belief is that individuals with dyslexia usually perceive letters and words in reverse. Even though this may be true for some individuals, this is only representative of 10-15% of the dyslexic public. The main difficulty dyslexics encounter is comprehension, relying on their working memory to decode the information which is almost an impossible task because reading is not automated due to poor phonological processing.

Being able to differentiate between these conditions may help individuals get the right treatment plan. For example, poor visual processing has a negative impact on attention span and focus. Therefore, some people may get diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and receive the wrong treatment.

How do you deal with auditory dyslexia?

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Diagnosing auditory dyslexia as early as possible may facilitate obtaining the most effective treatment plan. Because treatment differs in dyslexia and auditory processing disorders, it is important to get the right diagnosis. The first step in dealing with auditory dyslexia would be to improve the accuracy and efficiency of sound processing. Therefore, auditory comprehension and language skills will be enhanced.

One possible solution, according to researchers, would be the use of personal remote microphone systems, such as a Roger Focus system; these are beneficial for both children with dyslexia and children with auditory processing disorders. This system involves small earpieces worn by children, which receive the teacher’s voice and messages. Studies have shown significant improvements in hearing abilities and phonemic awareness in children who wore these earpieces.

How do you deal with visual dyslexia?

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Some tips for reducing visual dyslexia would include: seeking professional advice and finding an optician who may recommend eye exercises; adjusting fonts and changing them to more dyslexia-friendly sizes and spacing; using reading rulers and reading windows; minimising brightness by adjusting the sunlight in the room which may create reflections on shiny surfaces; using whiteboards to help you write and erase your information; using pointers for children with fixation issues; using a writing slope to reduce visual distortion as it has been recommended by some educational experts and occupational therapists; and colour fixes for computer screens to make reading more comfortable.

Another good way to treat symptoms of visual dyslexia could be vision therapy which mainly focuses on improving individuals’ visual efficiency and processing. Results showed that visual therapy may be successful in the treatment of dyslexic persons. Some doctors’ advice may require children to wear glasses for activities such as reading.

This article has focused on raising awareness of visual and auditory processing challenges in individuals who may also experience dyslexia. It discussed the definition of these conditions, and how they are related, concluding by offering recommendations on possible ways to treat the symptoms. If you think you have traits of dyslexia, take our free dyslexia test.

Useful links

How can dyslexia affect emotions?
Types of dyslexia
Dyslexia support

Blog Author

Oana Gherasim