Visual Processing Functions

Vision and eyesight are not the same things. Eyesight is the ability to see something clearly, this is what is tested with eye chars by pediatricians, schools, and regular visits to the optometrist.


Vision develops as a child grows. It is the brain's ability to use the images from both eyes, to coordinate the images, and control the eye's movements. Since this isn't learned until after birth it sometimes does not develop properly.

It can lead to dysfunctions of vision that cause learning disabilities, especially in writing, reading, & math.

Confused Little Girl

Many kinds of Vision problems

Often with challenged kids, the brain will take the input from one eye more than the other. This creates a dominant eye and the brain is more visually stimulated on one side of the brain. In this case if the left eye is dominant the right half of the brain is doing more of the processing. The other half is less stimulated and weakens.

It is important to make sure all functions are working properly so they don’t stall higher development. I recommend this exercise be done at least three times per week.

Vision convergence and divergence problems are another big cause of Learning Disabilities. When a child does school work or reads, both eyes turn in slightly (converge)  to focus on the words or numbers up close on their desk. Then the eyes spread apart (diverge) to look at something further away, like the chalkboard. If one or both eye muscles are a little weak they may not converge or focus properly. This will not be noticeable when looking at them or on a regular eye exam but causes real learning issues.

Why is it so important?  If there is a convergence problem the child will have very low reading comprehension. They will be unable to read over the sentences smoothly. Their eyes converge to focus on a word or number and it breaks and must refocus as they move to the next word or number. This makes reading difficult and tiring for the child. They prefer staring out the window at reading time. Because children don’t do things that they don’t like, these children are usually diagnosed with Attention Deficit, Dyslexia, or other Learning Disabilities. This is not something that a child would recognize or have the ability to compare and tell you about.

Even though they may score 20/20 on an eyesight check-up, put a sentence 2-3 feet in front of them and it would look like this and change as their eyes moved across the words.

This makes the words appear to move as they read. The real problem is that the brain is trying so hard to decode the double image it is receiving, that it prevents the images, words, numbers, and letters from entering long term memory. The double view also keeps the brain too busy to move into higher function processing such as reading comprehension or higher math skills. It has to spend too much effort on the ever-changing images.

Smooth Pursuit allows the eyes to slowly follow a moving target, such as a bird flying by. It is common to find this function underdeveloped in children with Learning Disabilities, ADHD, ADD, SPD, and ASD.

It isn’t noticeable unless you know what to look for. These kids or adults usually get misdiagnosed with reading disabilities. Although this is done with the eyes, Smooth Pursuit is actually a higher function of the brain. Most animals do not have the ability to Smooth Pursuit. Only humans and a few animals of higher intelligence are able to. 

The tests and exercises for these visional functions are very similar in nature and will help to improve your child's vision.

Eye exercises are very tiring so do them at the end of their other exercises. You can spread them out over the day if needed. Don’t push them too hard or you will start getting a lot of resistance from them

Eye Dominance

Use a comfortable eye patch. The cheap ones come apart quickly and are uncomfortable to the child. See below for our favorite.

Patch one eye for 5 minutes, then the other for 5 minutes. Let them play around or watch their favorite show during this time. Over a few weeks, try to work up to 15 minutes on each side a few days a week. We have found that offering a little ‘screen time’ while they wear it can be an incentive to keep it on.

I like putting a little essential oil out and turning on some light classical music so they are getting stimulated on their sight, sound, and smell senses all at once. I usually let this ‘screen time’ be their reward after doing their other cognitive exercises. They enjoy it while still getting more stimulation.

Convergence /Divergence

Put a sticker on the end of a pen, such as a sticker of a kitty or something they recognize. Hold the pencil 2 feet in front of their face. Ask them how may “kitties” they see. They should say they only see one at this distance. Slowly move the sticker toward the bridge of their nose. Instruct them to tell you when it looks like 2 “kitties’, or whatever is pictured on the sticker. They should see only one image until the sticker is about 2-3 inches from their nose. If the image becomes double when the sticker is further than 3 inches from their eyes, the exercises are needed.

Ask them to tell you when it doubles or turns to “2 kitties”. When the image doubles for them, stop moving and ask them to try to make it “one kitty” again. Once they focus to do this you could move it a little closer until it doubles. Again, ask them to try and make it “one kitty”. Once they bring it into focus a second time, tell them to watch as you slowly move it back away to 2 feet from their face. Do this 3-4 times a day until they can keep it from doubling up to 3 inches from their nose. Then keep doing it a couple more weeks.

Another Test you can do is Print a picture of something that interests your child – like a kitty or robot – in a small size (1 inch x 1 inch ‘baby’) and a large size (about 6 inches by 6 inches  ‘mommy’). You can use the printable below. Tape the baby picture to the end of a pen. Tape the mommy picture to the wall. Have your child sit 10-15 feet away from the picture on the wall. Hold the stickered pen at a distance where the test showed their vision doubled. Tell them to look at the “mommy” on the wall while you count to 3 then focus on the baby picture on the pen while you count to 3. Do this 10 times, moving the pen slightly closer to the bridge of their nose each time. Move slowly, you want it to be a challenging exercise, but not too frustrating. And, you want to make sure they are really seeing one image. Do this daily until they can focus easily with it about 3 inches from their face. Then continue the exercise for a couple of weeks.

Smooth Pursuit

Get a sticker of a kitty or something that your child likes and put it at the top of a pencil. Hold it out a couple of feet from the eyes. Start at one side and slowly move it to the other side while you observe the eyes. If they skip or appear to jiggle as they follow the target, the exercises are needed.

You should move it so that it takes about 8 seconds to move about 18 inches from right to left; then again from left to right. To make it easier, you can start at one side and count about 4 seconds to pass the nose and 4 more seconds to get past the other eye.

For your exercises:

  • Go to the right, and back to the center 10 times.
  • Then to the left and back to center 10 times.