Visual discrimination involves the ability to perceive words accurately by noting likenesses and differences in words. There are several ways in which readers, especially beginning readers, experience difficulty with the visual discrimination of words. They often do not note likenesses and differences of vowels and consonants in words, and/or display reversals, omissions and additions in their reading. For example, a student who does not note the difference between words like went and want, ride and rode, horse and house, confused and confessed may be one who experiences difficulty with vowel discrimination. A student who experiences difficulty with consonant discrimination may confuse words such as then and when, would and could, ever andeven, and presents and prevents. Reversals are displayed, for example, by confusion of was andsaw, big and dig, spot and stop, conserve and conversed. Additions and omissions are evident in such word discrimination as our versus your, ever versus every, though versus through, andconversion versus conversation.

When a student shows signs of letter reversal when reading words, there is often a concern that the student may be learning disabled or dyslexic. While reversals in reading may be one indicator that a student has a visual discrimination skill deficiency, a diagnosis of learning disabilities is based on multiple indicators.

A learning disabled student is one who innately has an average to superior IQ (intelligence quotient), and serious learning skill deficiencies. These deficiencies severely hinder a student’s growth in both language and mathematical areas. Dyslexia is a general term used to describe a learning disabled student whose skills are hindered in language areas, but not mathematics. A learning disabled or dyslexic student often experiences serious weaknesses in the learning skill areas of visual discrimination, visual memory, auditory discrimination and auditory memory.

Although learning disabled or dyslexic students frequently have a visual discrimination weakness, not all students who have a visual discrimination weakness are learning disabled. It is possible for a student to experience a weakness in just one learning skill area. In this case, the student will not be considered learning disabled or dyslexic but will be a student who is in need of remediation to develop that one particular weak learning skill.

Beginning readers often misperceive words that are similar because they have not yet internalized the differences in newly presented words. While it should not be assumed that a beginning reader who reverses letters or confuses similar words is learning disabled, if a student continues to display a serious weakness in visual discrimination beyond a mid-first grade level, diagnostic testing is advisable.

It is important to note, also, that sometimes it is assumed that students who reverse words, reading was for saw, or saw for was, actually “see” the words in reverse. This is not the case. Instead, it is the way they perceive words that causes this difficulty. Upon careful examination of students with this deficiency, it has been determined
that students with visual discrimination problems involving reversals experience difficulty with left-right directionality. Sometimes they view the word with a right-left eye-movement, instead of a left-right eye-movement. Thus, they will read was as saw or saw as was. Training students to move their eyes consistently from left to right in the reading of words is an essential part of vision training.

The most common cause for visual discrimination problems, lies in the fact that students with visual discrimination problems do not focus on the individual letters of the word and/or note likenesses and, in particular, differences in words. These students often, for example, read words such as when as then, and then as when because they do not focus on the initial letter of the word and/or think about its initial letter sound. Parents and educators need to point out the differences in these words to students and to work toward establishing an internalized understanding of them.

In order to develop good visual discrimination skills students need consistent and developmentally presented vision training to help them learn how to establish consistent left-right eye movement and how to focus on the differences in similar words.

- Addie Cusimano, M.ED.

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