Visual-perceptual difficulties refers generally to a condition stemming from an anomaly in the brain’s method of processing visually based information. Visual-perceptual difficulties often involve either impediments to visual acuity or problems with spatial perception. Problems with visual acuity hinder accurately discerning, identifying and observing of key features. Difficulties with spatial perception cause problems in situations that demand evaluation of size, distance, shape, direction or motion.
In everyday life, visual-perceptual difficulties may be a barrier to finding one’s bearings in a new environment, to reading a calendar, or e.g. to evaluating distance or duration. In learning, visual-perceptual difficulties may especially hinder one’s ability to understand symbols or to read figures and tables. The difficulties may also impede the student’s understanding of how to operate various devices. Problems with visual acuity may lead to mistakes of oversight or ‘carelessness’, if some detail escapes the student’s attention and thereby hinders finding key information about the whole. Visual-perceptual difficulties are often related to trouble learning mathematics, since that relies upon spatial perception abilities for visualising the meaning of numerals and mathematical symbols. The student may face hurdles in perceiving geometric relations.
A large part of human interaction is non-verbal, and therefore visual-perceptual difficulties may also be detrimental in social situations. The student may have problems interpreting peoples’ facial expressions or gestures. New social situations in particular may be difficult. Visual-perceptual difficulties may also relate to problems with visualisation, or tasks requiring imagination.
Tips for student guidance
- Raise the issue with the students and ask them about their needs. They know best themselves what would help them. Help the student to identify his or her strengths as well. These can be an asset in the challenges of daily living.
Course study routines on the right track?
- Make the course timetables and schedules clear and legible.
- Have a clear structure for lecture slides. Use a sufficient large font size and a clearly readable sans-serif font type (such as Arial)
- Mind the contrast between the text and the background of your lecture slides. Clear contrasts are preferable, such as black against a white background. Provide the student with the chance to receive his or her own copy of the lecture slides without pictures or background colour.
Learning in lectures
- Mark or otherwise indicate what are the key points about figures and tables. Convey also in writing the key information that is expressed in a table or figure.
- Pay attention to the length and clarity of the exercises you assign. Many affected students have difficulty with reading and understanding assignments as well as with remembering long assignments or instructions. Give assignments not only verbally, but in writing as well.
- Give mathematical assignments in a form where the problems are broken down into smaller units and subtasks. Breaking down the exercises into smaller units reduces the amount of information that the student has to process at one time.
- Connect the task of calculation with the theory it is meant to illustrate. You may help the student to make the connection him- or herself. That will make the point and relevance of the calculation exercises clearer to the student.
- Illustrate calculation exercises graphically, e.g. by drawing them in a visual form. Exemplifying an exercise by drawing it in picture form on paper is helpful for most people.
- Explain clearly how to proceed with the calculation exercise and also the purpose of doing it. Understanding the reasons and connections facilitates understanding of the concept.
Individual study arrangements
In Finnish higher education, 4.4% of students have been diagnosed as having dyslexia (Finnish Student Health Service 2016). Reading is slow for people with dyslexia due to difficulties in perceiving and mentally processing the sounds of words and text.
Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder may present in students as a difficulty concentrating, making mistakes of ‘carelessness’ , or encountering hurdles to independent study.
Of mental disorders, particularly depression is common with young adults. With mental disorders, it is important to listen to one’s own feelings and remember to reserve sufficient time for recovering from the strain of studies.
Anxiety means a state where a person is feeling restless and worried. Short-term anxiety and performance anxiety are very common and natural phenomena. Anxiety disorders refer to situations where feelings of anxiety are long-term and disproportionate to the situation.