Category Archives: Visual Processing

Increasing vocabulary; leading the “blind” to sight words


At age 7, Helen Keller, completely shut off from her world through the tyrant twins of deafness and blindness, recognized the word, “water” being finger-spelled in one hand while cool water flowed over the other hand. She made astounding progress, a mere 5 years later publishing her first magazine article and then in another 5 years, entering Radcliffe College. In her lifetime, she wrote 14 books and hundreds of magazine articles.

The children we teach in no way start out as sensory deprived as Helen Keller, but we do know that a child’s mind is only limited by the concepts he has names for.

Research has proven over and over again – vocabulary acquisition is one of the most important tools in expanding a child’s interaction with the world.

We know these things:

Vocabulary knowledge in kindergarten and first grade is a significant predictor of reading comprehension in middle and high school

Vocabulary strongly influences a teacher’s judgment of a student’s competency

Lack of sound vocabulary skills is a critical factor in school failure

It is estimated that a first grader needs to have 1,000 words in their reading vocabulary, which then soars to 10,000 for a third grader and 40,000 by the time a student is in twelfth grade.  That is an increase of 3,000 words per grade.  Studies show that disadvantaged children and poor readers acquire less than half of the vocabulary of their successful peers.

So many words, so little time!  hourglassWhat to do?

Have your child involved in learning programs that teach the sight words and the most frequently occurring words in print. The child should receive multiple exposures to the word by both seeing it and hearing it. Choose engaging reading games that not only build on sight word vocabulary but that also teach spelling, visual processing skills and other learning tools centered around good reading techniques.

U CAN CONNECT was designed with those ideas in mind. Each level has 3000 sight words and hundreds of the most-frequently used words in written text. Highly engaging, these online games are fun reading games that that were specially engineered so that parents do not have to monitor their child during play. The KidsSafe Seal says this is a website a parent can trust.

Check out

For a list of the first 4000 words that a child needs to learn, visit

Your child has 40,000 words to learn – if Helen Keller can do it, so can your child! Just get going.

Credit / Attribution – Print

@ Can Stock Photo Inc. / photobee

Credit / Attribution – Print

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / grgroup

When is autism not autism?

confused child

Does my child have autism, or is it something else?

Annie was a cute 4 year old that I was asked to work with. She had just been diagnosed with autism, had virtually no speech, ran around grabbing things and had tantrums throughout the day when activities were changed.

Flailing limbs, biting, kicking just to get her from an activity on the floor she was engrossed in, to the dinner table. Once there, she would calm down and eat. There were no trips to the stores because of grabbing items and screaming, no birthday parties due to the inability to play well with others and virtually no communication skills. I’ve been a speech therapist for twenty-five years, been involved with learning disabilities for the last 14 years, have seen thousands of kids, but I’ll never forget Annie.

Mainly because she wasn’t autistic.

Annie had great eye contact and would watch what a person’s hands were doing. She was quite social when engaged in an activity. She recognized people and knew who they were in relationship to her. But she really didn’t get what people were saying to her.

I quickly figured out she had a severe auditory processing problem.

Of course she would get upset when an activity changed. She’d be playing along, the usual murmuring of ‘blah, blah, blah” going on in the background, something she had learned to tune out since it didn’t make sense, and then, wham! She was being picked up and someone was forcing shoes on her feet or she was being led to the bathtub or made to do things without knowing what was going to happen next.

Along with working on listening skills, I taught the family to speak in only one- and two- word sentences. “ Eat now. Done play. Get bath.” Annie started processing those very short phrases and started imitating them. She stopped grabbing things and learned to say, “More cookie. Want bear.”

Within 6 months, Annie was using 3-4 word sentences and her behavior had improved immensely. She was allowed back in the shopping cart and could start a preschool program.

The point here is that sometimes we jump too fast to label a child with autism when in fact there may be other reasons for that classic identifier of a  “disconnect’ with the world.

  • Hearing impairment can cause a child to not understand speech and can go undiagnosed for years
  • Visual processing delays might cause a child to not have good eye contact and not focus on visual information put in front of them
  • Delayed speech may come about because of Apraxia, a delay in the motor regions of the brain that prevents words from being formed. Some children with apraxia, like children with autism, never learn to say more than a few words.
  • Poor word finding or low vocabulary can come about because of Dyslexia or an expressive language disorder.
  • Severe ear infections can cause a central auditory processing disorder, like in Annie’s case. Children do not attend to speech, won’t watch TV or movies and they often have limited speech in return.
  • Like with autism, a language-delayed child may not understand that someone is using humor. They may interpret the communication word for word and fail to catch the implied meaning.

Getting the right diagnosis is so important. If you are worried that your child is exhibiting symptoms of autism, visit the ear doctor, the eye doctor, or a speech therapist. If all of the processing areas check out, then a neuro-pediatrician or a behavioral specialist visit is warranted.

Remember, it may look like your child is exhibiting symptoms of autism, but other processing disorders can mimic many of that disorder’s signs and characteristics.



Photo credit: Canstock photo



Dysgraphia – when a pencil becomes an enemy

broken pencil

Kyle is in first grade and sitting in his Friday morning spelling test; a test he knows he is about to fail.  It’s not that he hasn’t studied the words for this week because he can spell them forward, and if his teacher asked, backward as well.  His pencil sweats in his hand because he’s trying to make it spell out the word ‘circle’ and his hand won’t cooperate.  Of course, he doesn’t know that other children around him aren’t having the same problem—their pencils are scratching along on their papers while his sits paralyzed.  Now he’s just feeling stupid again.  When the test ends, Kyle has only a few letters on the page but no whole words.  This isn’t a spelling problem; it’s dysgraphia.

Dysgraphia means a dysfunction in the ability to write or recognize graphemes, which translates to mean, any written material.   Dysgraphia is a lesser form of the more serious disorder called Agraphia, where the person is totally unable to write, hold a pencil or copy even a simple line.

Although the cause of Dysgraphia is still not know, just by correctly identifying it and then introducing therapeutic measures and accommodations, a child can function very well in the class.   Studies show that there is a slight decrease in this problem around puberty.  One interesting fact is that more than 75% of children with dysgraphia are male. (A percentage that stays fairly constant when studying ADD, speech and language problems and stuttering.)

Many students with or without this disorder struggle with producing neat writing that concisely expresses thought.  So why is there such an emphasis on writing?  There are very good reasons why writing is such an important part of any academic program: It helps with memory, thought and concept organization, and visual processing as well as fine motor coordination.  The act of writing engages a part of the brain that helps absorb and solidify the material being written.  Writing takes the child from being a passive listening to an active learner.   Unfortunately, the child who struggles with dysgraphia may laboriously complete the assignments but not have learned anything about the content of what he wrote.

Some of the signs of Dysgraphia are:

  • Overall illegible writing, even when the child gave it his best effort
  • Inconsistent mixtures of upper and lower case letters, printing and cursive, irregular size and shape of letters and the slant may change within the same line
  • Unfinished words or letters or whole words are left out of a sentence
  • Inconsistent spacing between words and letters
  • Unusual position of the writing on the page.  They may not use the lines or the margins correctly
  • Using a cramped or unusual grip on the pencil, such as, holding it too close to the paper or using odd finger holds that make him write from the wrist
  • Strange paper, body or wrist positioning
  • Talking to himself while writing
  • Watches his hand while he writes, almost like he has no feedback as to what it’s producing unless he can see it
  • Slow or labored copying or writing
  • The content in the finished project is not equal to the higher ability of the child’s language

What should you do if your child has dysgraphia?

            School Accommodations:

  • Allow more time for written tasks which includes note-taking, copying and tests.  Allow a classmate to be a ‘note-taker’ or allow a tape recorder.  Give large projects to the child earlier than the rest of the class to allow time to complete them.
  • Encourage good keyboarding skills to increase speed and legibility.
  • Teach your child to prepare his assignment papers ahead of time with his name and numbering already in place so that he won’t be stuck concentrating on writing his name when the teachers is ahead of him dictating words.
  • Have the teacher provide an outline for your child on which he can take notes or a math paper with the problems already written down.  This reduces the need to take down the full set of information first.
  • Allow oral testing or allow your child to dictate to a ‘scribe’ what he wanted to write.
  • Remove neatness or spelling as a part of your child’s grading criteria.
  • Allow abbreviations or shorthand in you child’s work and have your child develop a list of these that he can keep in his notebook and refer to during writing assignments.
  • Have the teacher provide a ‘model’ of the finished product that your child may keep in a binder.  This allows him to have a working template so he’s not re-inventing each assignment from scratch.
  • Allow the child to use cursive or manuscript skills, whichever one is easier.  (Cursive is often easier to manage because once the motor flow starts, it can trigger the rest of the word.)
  • Allow colored paper or colored ink if it helps your child see the paper easier.   Try using different pencils, pens and pencil grips.
  • Word processing is a solution for many children. Teach the use of ‘spell-check’ as early as possible.

Remember, Dysgraphia, doesn’t put an end to your child’s ability to learn, to achieve great things or to believe in himself.  With the correct identification, treatment and accommodations, your child can also have the ‘write’ stuff!

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I’ll take the rose-colored glasses, please!

glassesI’ll take the rose-colored glasses, please.

I got glasses when I was really little, somewhere around 2 years old. No need to wait to see if I could read from the blackboard in school, apparently I couldn’t see five inches in front of my face. I ping-ponged off walls, completely missed some of the steps on the stairs, and stared off to the side of any speaker’s face, blissfully happy in my blurry world.

Then BLAM! I got glasses.

When people are fitted for hearing aids, we tell them to only wear them for a few hours a day, building up to a full day of usage trying to prevent over-stimulation to the auditory cortex.

Well, my new, pink glasses with their embedded silver sparkles were strapped on my tiny noggin and I wore them every waking minute. I had no idea that things had specific shapes, that the dog had individual pieces of hair or that a coloring book had a purpose. The saying, ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ was so true.

I still have that first pair of glasses, but thank goodness contacts were invented.

Visual processing problems present themselves in the same way. A child who sees the words turn wavy on the line, or the text disappears altogether, doesn’t know that this is not the norm. I tested a girl who threw up almost everyday at school.  She had been to doctor after doctor, including psychologists and psychiatrists, and all that had been decided was that school made her very anxious.  She started taking the medications to reduce stress, so then when she threw up each day, because that didn’t stop, she wasn’t as upset about it.

I diagnosed her with the Irlen Syndrome (previously called Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome), a condition within the sight regions of the brain that make reading more difficult and causes fatigue. Words can move on the page, and in this girl’s case, her page spun. It becomes hard for a person with the Irlen Syndrome to shift gaze from different surfaces, for example, from a book to a notebook or from blackboard to paper, without losing their place.  It can cause headaches, fatigue and anxiety if not treated.  Many people with it report lower energy levels, decreased motivation or depression.

When this girl was asked why she never said anything about the page spinning, she said, “Because that’s what it always does.  The other kid’s pages look like they are moving, too. I just thought they were tougher than I was.”

The solution was placing Irlen colored overlays over the printed material to make it calm down and stay still.

Helen Irlen, a reading specialist in Long Beach, CA, discovered the Irlen Syndrome while working on her dissertation. Now with over fifty different research studies world-wide, the Irlen Syndrome has been proven to interfere with reading, writing, focused attention and to cause stress and fatigue in visual activities. The research can be viewed at

The symptoms of the Irlen syndrome can look like other problems, in particular ADD or ADHD.  If the words are moving on the page, a child is not going to spend a lot of time reading or trying to read.  Some of the common symptoms of the syndrome are:

A child may skip words or lines, misread words, repeat or reread lines, demonstrate slow, choppy reading, need lots of breaks, rub their eyes, complain of tiredness or eye strain, fall asleep while reading, experience headaches or dizziness from visual activities, have a hard time comprehending or remembering what they’ve just read, become bothered by bright lights or read from the page with it turned at an odd angle.

The Irlen syndrome affects 15% of the general population but in struggling readers, it is 46%.  There is a strong genetic component and we often find that several children in a family can have it but at varying degrees of severity.

The Irlen syndrome has baffled educators and scientists in the past.  It seemed too easy a solution to throw some colored sheets over the page and then a child started reading.  It still remains undetected by standard educational or medical tests.

Understanding that the Irlen syndrome may be a piece of the puzzle in a child’s academic struggles is the first step. Asking the right questions is the second.  The next time your child balks at sitting down to read, instead of asking him why he won’t read, you should ask him, ‘What happens when you look at the page?

I’ll bet if my parent’s had asked me, “Can you take your doll to daddy?’ I would have said, “Which blurry thing is daddy?”

(reprinted with permission from Karla’s blog, The Learning

Bridging the gap in reading



Bridging the gap in reading

Our marketing team recently showed a reading specialist of 20 years the UCanConnect Reading program, and she got very excited. “These are the exact activities we have always needed in our toolbox to help students master reading, especially since they can be done at home.”  She went on to say that it is essential that children increase their visual and auditory processing skills in order to improve reading fluency, sight word recognition and phonological awareness.

She needed to be peeled away from the games. “These are so much fun!” She added, “And the low price is something every family can afford, especially when you look at the cost of outside tutoring.”

The UCanConnect Reading Program was developed to address the findings of current literacy research, for example, studies from Expert Perspectives on Interventions for Reading, published by the International Dyslexia Association, 2012, and The International Handbook of Research in Children’s Literacy, May 2013, Wiley-Blackerll.

Current findings state:

  •     Poor word-recognition skill is a main factor in limited reading comprehension.

—-> UCanConnect exposes the reader to over 2000 sight words at each level, both through the visual and auditory modalities.

  •     Children with reading weaknesses cannot be treated alike. Instruction needs to be intensive, structured, but dynamic, and must address all the learning processes involved in reading.

—-> UCanConnect works on 12 areas of visual and auditory processing skills, gradually increasing the difficulty as the child progresses through 4 tiers of difficulty in each game.

  •     The home is the smallest school. Reading problems in a classroom can be minimized when parents become a part of the reading team.

—–>  UCanConnect is web-base and takes approximately 30-35 minutes to play. Whether the practice is 3 or 5 times a week, this intensive, yet minimal amount of time, fits into the home’s time-crunched schedule.

Skills we needs before we read…


Question: Why did we a build a reading program that put a strong emphasis on visual processing skills?

Answer: Visual processing skills are the fundamental skills needed to become a proficient reader. In learning centers and schools across the world, visual processing tests are administered to determine a child’s abilities, yet there were no structured programs that helped train a child if the scores turned out to be low.

Voila! U CAN CONNECT was born!

Unfortunately children don’t begin reading by instantly decoding sounds and acquiring sight vocabulary.  They move through predictable phases of recognizing letters, recalling their sounds, and then understanding that when the sounds are blended together, these are words. Words carry meaning and when combined into sentences, a story is build.

But, there are other areas that silently play into being a good reader – visual processing skills that we take for granted because they just seem to happen for most of us.

There are many visual processing skills that affect reading and all of the learning situations.

Visual Discrimination uses the sense of sight to notice and compare the features of different items to distinguish one item from another as in letters and then words in a sentence. Children with poor visual discrimination have a hard time seeing the difference between two similar letters, shapes or objects. This affects the speed to learn new words and spelling skills.

Visual processing speed is the ability to recognize numbers, letters and words quickly, an important factor in good reading fluency. Research shows that children with high visual processing speeds are faster readers than children with low processing speeds.

Visual sequential memory ability is the ability to determine or remember the order of symbols, words, or objects.  This skill is particularly important for spelling.  A child who struggles with visual sequencing may leave out, add or switch around letters within words.  Recognizing and remembering patterns may also prove difficult.

Visual memory means that students must be able to look at a word, form an image of that word in their minds, and be able to recall the appearance of the word later. Once the word is erased or out of sight, students with good visual memory will recognize that same word later in their readers or other texts and will be able to recall the appearance of the word to spell it.

Visual closure is the ability to visualize a complete whole when given incomplete information or a partial picture. This skill helps children read and comprehend quickly. Children with poor visual closure also may have difficulty completing a thought or making an accurate judgment from partial information. In reading, they may confuse similar objects or words, especially words with close beginning or endings. This skill is an essential skill for fluency and speed in reading and spelling.

And that’s why we decided to build a visual and auditory processing reading program!