This is part 3 of a series of 6 posts about Visual-Spatial Processing Issues (and other related learning differences). Links to the other posts in this series are found at the bottom of this post.
General Adaptations for a Child with Visual-Spatial Processing Issues
(Remember that if your child has other “special needs,” the adaptations suggested in these posts may also be very helpful for your child’s particular issues.)
The topics covered in this post are:
- Getting started and filling in the gap
- Practice visual-spatial skills
- Provide a suitable learning environment
- Make learning materials easy to use
- Teach “tricks” on how to understand material better
- Working with the school team
- Working one-on-one with your child
Getting started and filling in the gaps:
- Explain to your child, in simple terms, about her learning differences, ways they affect her learning, and that “adaptations” will help her learn. For each new adaptation you introduce, explain why it will be helpful.
- Carefully watch your child work through school-type exercises and note where “gaps” in knowledge and understanding have developed. Set aside the current work and help your child fill in those gaps before trying to carry on with more complex concepts.
- Focus on your child’s personal interests and passions. They will provide the motivation, not to mention the essential “background knowledge” of a topic, which is so important to success in math, reading and writing.
- Recognize that parental involvement is very important! You are in many senses your child’s best tutor and teacher, as you know your child so well–and you have already taught your child so many important, basic skills, probably without even realising it!
Practice visual-spatial skills:
- Provide frequent practical opportunities to differentiate left and right, as well as concepts like backward, forward, under, over, around–and north, south, east, west, etc. Talk about them and point them out as you go for walks or drives; put them into practice in all kinds of daily activities.
- Assist your child with identifying how similar objects have differences by talking them through before starting a problem: for example, discuss colour, form, shape, size, pattern and position.
- Work together on practical tasks involving directionality; for example, go outdoors and use map-reading to find a given location.
- Since your child will likely have difficulty with a “look and learn” approach, assume you do have to “tell” (explain, show, discuss) in clear verbal terms. Associate each of your explanations with concrete (“real life”) situations and experiences.
- Instead of expecting your child to free-sketch designs, allow copying/tracing of geometric and other designs, or provide outline pictures for which the child can fill in details. This is also good practice for your child in recognising, sorting out, and organising visual details.
- Assist with whole/part relationships. Help your child perceive and integrate the relationship between an object and its parts. Give practice with puzzles, models, Lego, construction kits, and games that emphasise spatial reasoning, mental rotation, and subtle visual details.
- To build self-determination, independence, and confidence as a learner, encourage your child to share knowledge with others when she can.
- Help your child learn to find patterns in visual information and combine them into a meaningful whole. Practice with simple visual patterns, mazes (starting with simple ones), lots of practice with pattern worksheets/workbooks, and use of Tangram tiles to create patterns and pictures.
- Provide lots of practical opportunities to arrange materials in space. Start with large materials, such as helping organise furniture in rooms at home, or helping the teacher reorganise the set up of desks in the classroom. Move to somewhat smaller objects, such as organising her closet by sorting her clothes in different ways–by type of garment, seasons, colours, etc. Or reorganise the kitchen cupboards. Gradually introduce smaller, more complex tasks.
Provide a suitable learning environment:
- Allow your child to work in a quiet, uncluttered place for better concentration; provide earplugs or headphones if needed.
- Pair the child with a peer buddy some of the time. Working together and taking turns “teaching” each other can be both helpful and fun.
- Rather than using a “planner book” with pages for each day or week (which can seem cluttered and overwhelming), purchase one of those large-scale monthly wall calendars so your child can quickly and clearly recognise completion dates for assignments. If possible, use clear, simple “picture stickers” to mark upcoming events (for example, a simple picture of a camera for school picture day) and assignment deadlines (for example, stickers with simple plus and minus signs for math; stickers with pictures of books for reading; etc.)
- Help your child keep his workspace clear from distractions. Remove all visual clutter that is not totally necessary to the task at hand. Ensure he clears his desk completely before beginning a new task. Then help him assemble just the materials needed for the current task.
- Sit close beside your child (not across from) when demonstrating how to do something, so she is seeing your demonstration from the same viewpoint as if she was doing it herself.
- Allow small breaks every 15 to 20 minutes to relax her brain and prevent frustration from building up.
- Provide for repetition, review and over-learning of facts, through extra practice at home, help from an EA at school, and one-on-one tutoring. But arrange for recreational breaks between school time and tutoring/homework/review time.
- Teach your child how to organise information in her own outlines, checklists, concept maps, etc. At first, you will be introducing adaptations, but it is very important for your child to also learn how to develop and use her own adaptations.
Make learning materials easy to use:
- Break complex information or instructions into small steps, and do one step at a time.
- Especially in the early grades, provide lots of activities with manipulative materials. Start with larger materials that are easier to handle and to organize. Use materials that are organized in clear ways, such as by bright colours. Allow use of manipulatives when doing math tests.
- Arrange to have instructions or assignments provided in written form (on worksheets or in workbooks) rather than expecting the child to copy from the board. Your child may have difficulty copying information correctly, so using a worksheet or workbook that has some of the basic steps already clearly included will help her focus on other key steps she needs to learn. Gradually include less and less pre-done steps.
- Write out steps for doing various skills. Break down projects into clear and concrete steps. Help your child create a personal reference notebook or binder which he can refer to whenever needed.
- Encourage your child to think of adaptations that she would find helpful, and have her add them to her list of adaptations in her personal reference binder.
- Simplify layouts and arrangement of visual-spatial assignments. Provide plenty of “white space” on a page and avoid clutter. Use larger print and fewer words. While lots of children love colourfully illustrated worksheets and workbooks, plain, simple, well-spaced ones are better for children with visual-spatial processing difficulties.
- Enlarge visual materials using a photocopier.
- Don’t require your child to use visual strategies he finds confusing (webs, diagrams, charts, etc.). Introduce concepts in other ways, and once he understands them clearly, then start using graphic visuals, with very simple ones to start.
- Cover up the worksheet questions the child is not working on currently, with sticky notes or blank paper, so she can focus on just one exercise at a time.
- Emphasise the use of language to explain concepts and procedure. Explain verbally all new skills, concepts, graphics, and visually-based information and tasks. Back up the verbal instruction with clear, easy to read, step-by-step written instructions. Use numbered boxes and colour codes. Place written checklist instructions in clear plastic envelopes, and provide erasable markers to check off each step as it is done. When a task is completed, erase the marks and reuse the sheet for the next exercise.
- When teaching brainstorming and planning techniques, use very clear, well-organized, simple mind maps. Avoid methods such as writing ideas scrawled all over the page.
Teach “tricks” on how to understand material better:
- Show your child how to underline with coloured pencils, or highlight with different coloured markers, key words and key aspects to be remembered.
- Use a ruler or white piece of cardboard to eliminate potential distractions on a page. Make a “frame” from white cardboard so your child can “scroll” it down the page, focusing on only a couple lines at a time.
- Your child needs to learn study skills just as any other child does. Over time, introduce methods such as using index cards, filling in her planner/calendar, creating outlines, and so on. You can provide samples and model them to start with, but you want your child to become self-sufficient. Experiment with and then focus on study methods that work well for your child.
Working with the school team:
- Request that your child be given oral exams and/or have a scribe during exams, if possible.
- Be sure to attend school team meetings about your child–parent-teacher interviews, IEP planning meetings, etc.
- Ask for the child to be allowed to rewrite tests if necessary. At home, prepare by going through the test the child had difficulty with and figure out what the child’s problems were. Then reteach and practice those steps before test rewrites.
- When your child has to remember visual materials like graphs, diagrams and maps, help with developing verbal memory strategies such as making up a rhyme to help with, for example, recall of locations of various cities or provinces.
- Ask for extra learning support for academic subjects, especially for written output, reading decoding, and visual spatial reasoning in math. If the school cannot provide enough one-on-one help, ask for pointers on how you can help your child at home, and/or hire a tutor qualified to help with these issues.
- Request that your child be allowed separate sittings for tests in a quiet space with a helper available.
Working one-on-one with your child:
- Focus on stronger learning styles, for example, verbal learning vs visual-spatial learning. Translate abstract visual information into meaningful verbal information or more concrete visual information to help with comprehension, generalising and retention–and then encourage verbal feedback. For example, a visual math problem could be broken down into a series of written steps to read, or could be modeled. Then encourage the child to respond and practice by talking through the steps of a problem by saying it aloud and explaining it.
- Discourage “thinking of/picturing the answer in your head” and instead insist on the child writing down and/or talking through the problem step by step.
- Provide one to one assistance, such as personal discussion, dictation and scribing so the overall work is less challenging and frustrating (but over time increasingly require more and more personal effort, step by step).
- Use a patient, gentle, encouraging approach. Break the work down into mini-goals/steps and give verbal rewards for small successes. Praise for effort as well as accomplishment; recognize when the child is trying her best.
- Don’t immediately reprimand the child for “forgetting” or for seeming “unfocused.” Instead, first consider that these behaviours may indicate that the material is too complex and needs to be broken down into smaller, achievable and realistic steps and goals.
- Consider continued consistent (but not overwhelming) practice and support during summer and other holidays.
- If your child finds one method easier than other methods, allow her to use the method that works for her rather than forcing her to use methods that are too frustrating. If a particular method is necessary as it is a building block to more complex work, first use the “easy” method and then gradually introduce the other method step by step. Explain how it will be useful in future.
In the posts in this series, we look at: