How Visual Processing Impacts Learning and Life with guest Kim Hanson

About this Episode

Continuing our series on cognitive skills, Dr. Amy and Sandy welcomed LearningRx CEO Kim Hanson to the Brainy Moms podcast. Kim explains for our listeners what visual processing is (hint: it’s more about the brain than the eyes), why we need it to be strong learners and readers, and how parents can help boost the skill at home. Kim shares examples of ways that weak processing skills can impact everything from driving and reading comprehension to using maps and doing math problems. Tune in to learn what red flags may indicate that your child or teen has challenges with visual processing and a potential intervention to target and train the skill to help your student live up to their full potential in school, work, sports, and life in general.

About Kim Hanson

Kim Hanson is the CEO of LearningRx and BrainRx, the largest network of one-on-one cognitive training centers in the world. She’s also the co-author of Unlock the Einstein Inside: Applying New Brain Science to Wake Up the Smart in Your Child. Kim is a former teacher with a reading endorsement and has made it her career passion to help professionals, educators, and parents learn more about cognitive skills and how they impact learning. Kim is also a Board Certified Cognitive Specialist, an autism mom, a mom of twins, and a pastor’s wife. Originally from Wisconsin, she now lives in Castle Rock, CO.

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Read the transcript for this episode:

DR. AMY: Hi, smart moms and dads. Welcome to another episode of The Brainy Moms podcast, brought to you by LearningRx Brain Training Centers. I’m your host, Dr. Amy Moore, and I am here with my co-host, Sandy Zamalis, and we are continuing in our series talking about the different cognitive skills, or thinking skills, those skills that our brain uses to think and learn all day, every day. And so today’s topic is going to be visual processing skills. And so we’re super passionate about this series because I’m a clinical researcher in neuroplasticity and Sandy is a board-certified cognitive specialist. And so this is what we do. And we help remediate weak cognitive skills. And so our guest today is the CEO of LearningRx, Kim Hansen. LearningRx is the largest network of cognitive training centers in the entire world. And so Kim is an ambassador for LearningRx. Her father created LearningRx. And so she’s been with it since the beginning, and has been a collaborator with her dad on the programs. And so we are really excited to dig into this topic with her. A little bit about Kim. She’s a former teacher and the co-author of the book, “Unlock the Einstein Inside: Applying New Brain Science to Wake Up the Smart in Your Child,” which she co-authored with her father, Dr. Ken Gibson. So Kim’s career passion is to help professionals, educators, and parents learn about cognitive skills and the impact of cognitive skill function on real-life performance. Welcome, Kim.

KIM: Thank you for having me and thank you for inviting me for one of my favorite topics ever. 

SANDY: Hi, Kim. It’s always so fun to talk with you, especially about topics that are near and dear to us professionally. So, when we asked you to join us today for this conversation about visual processing skills, Dr. Amy and I really went back and forth on who we would want and you were top of mind because this is such a big umbrella topic. We know that about 75 percent of classroom activities involve visual processing pathways. So it’s a pretty important skill for learning. Let’s get down to the basics. What do we mean by the term visual processing?

KIM: Yes. So visual processing is understanding what you see, and then it’s also being able to picture or make mental images in your head. So it’s kind of like creating the movie in your head as you read. It’s being able to see things, imagine things kind of, some people call it like the “mind’s eye.” But it’s, it’s being able to make images in your head for the most part. But it involves a lot of things when it comes to, you know, how do you process visually, because we take in so many things. That’s the, probably the number one sense that we use when it comes to how we learn, how we read, how we understand the world, right?

DR. AMY: So visual processing is this big generic term for a bunch of smaller skills, right?

KIM: Yes. Yes.

DR. AMY: Can you talk about some of those smaller, or the skills that fall under the visual processing umbrella?

KIM: Yeah. Yeah. So if you even think of like a baby, right? So, for example, when I was a baby, one of the things that you first learn is like your hand-eye coordination, right? So it’s, you know, you want to touch something, you want to reach out to something. My dad actually has film of me as a baby and instead of giving me like my pacifier, he’d always put it in my hand.  And then I would have to sit there and try to like get it in my mouth, right? Or he put like mobile things above me and I would bat at them and see them and move them. And so one of the things is that hand-eye coordination, or it’s being able, it’s kind of your motor skills, and how that ties in with what you see, right? So, you need that for a lot of things. You need that when you’re parking a car, when you’re catching a ball, when you’re trying to throw a ball into a hoop, those kind of things. Tying your shoes. Those are a lot of, that’s kind of that visual-motor skill. And then there’s also just kind of like discrimination. So it’s kind of how you see like an object. Like I could pick, I don’t know what I have here … a paintbrush. Fancy that. So, when you look at an object, if you’re listening, you should be imagining, which is visual processing, imagining that I’m holding a paintbrush. And when you look at this paintbrush, you can see the size. You can see the shape. You can see the color, right? You can see the distance of how close it is. And then also the orientation, like which way am I holding it? So, all of those things, when it comes to how you discriminate and see is part of visual processing and knowing kind of where you are in space, or even if it’s moving towards you. Right? So, that would be important if you had let’s say a large, black, round object that was coming at you. If you could discriminate how fast and how big, and if that was a balloon, versus a bowling ball, right? So if that’s flying at me quickly, I have to move faster for the bowling ball.  And so hopefully I can figure that out. Where a balloon I might have more time, right?

DR. AMY: So is …  that visual discrimination is part of that process, determining the emergent nature of what movement comes next. Is that part of visual discrimination or is that a reasoning skill that’s separate? Like, “Oh, no, it’s a bowling ball. It’s going to hit me and break my nose” versus, “Oh, it’ll be okay. I don’t have to move as quickly for the balloon.”

KIM: Right, right. But the faster you can discriminate and make those, those choices, the safer you are.

DR. AMY: Absolutely. Right. So I could see why that would be important for driving.

KIM: Yeah, so it’s also like if you think of the ability to match something or sort something or track something. These are all things that to visualize something to also hold something that you see in your memory. So all of these things kind of play into that, that how you process visual information. And the brain is so interesting. For example, you know, the brain can close gaps that are there. So one of the things that you can do is you can look at a picture that might be missing some of the lines. But your brain still usually knows what it is.If the corners are missing, it’s a little bit harder than if some of the, you know, in between lines. For example, if you think of, do you remember what the, the World Wildlife Fund logo is?

DR. AMY: No.


KIM: It’s like a panda bear. And on that panda bear. Here. I actually have a picture of it. On that panda bear. So if you’re listening on the, on the top, do you see how there is no line for his head or for there’s layers like spaces missing, right? But your head, your brain fills that in. So your brain can also find like patterns or it can find similarities. It can find, you know, differences. So the brain can also select things from busy-ness. So your brain has so much. to look at and think about and understand visually.

DR. AMY: So that’s called visual closure? Is that that skill that allows you to …

KIM: That’s visual closure, making lines that aren’t there. There’s also kind of like that, I think like, figure ground. You know, it’s being able to find something in, in something that’s visually busy. It’s a little bit like looking at the Where’s Waldo books and trying to find, you know, it’s difficult because there are so many things that are red and white. Right? They try to trick you, but being able to just, like, find things, you know, being able to match things, turn things, flip things, so manipulate visually is a big visual processing skill also.

DR. AMY: Are these learned skills? Or do they naturally develop a little bit of both?

KIM: So the closer it is to your lower cognitive skills and your sensory motor, the more innate it is. And then the more, when you’re visualizing something or you’re planning or you’re prioritizing or you’re thinking that’s, those are like you’re higher. So when you look at the learning model, visual processing is actually in your higher cognitive thinking skills, but just the ability to see and to discriminate would be  more of a lower cognitive skill, if that makes sense. So it kind of.  When you think about understanding what you see versus, making something up in your head, being able to see and flip something, you know, being able to walk into a room and know if something would fit or what it would look like painted this color, or if that bed was over there and that dresser was, you know. So being able to, to kind of think visually would be a much higher skill.

DR. AMY: So I’ll admit— Oh, go ahead.

SANDY: I was just going to, so developmentally, we spend a lot of time in the early years, really help honing in visual processing skills. That’s what I’m hearing you say.  All the toys and games and things that we engaged our babies and toddlers was, it’s all in helping build those neural pathways for what the eyes are collecting. Right?

KIM: Right. What do you think of shapes? Yeah. Yeah. I think of a lot of baby toys. I don’t know if you guys remember, I used to have, I think it was a Tupperware toy that was kind of like an octagon-ish ball. And you have all the shapes and you open it up and dump out all the little blocks and then put it in. So yeah, those are shapes. Those are even like 3D shapes and being able to discriminate where it goes and what the shape is. So that’s kind of that matching, it’s selecting, it’s sorting a lot of those things. Yeah.

DR. AMY: Puzzles, right?

KIM: When you’re, when you’re a preschooler.

DR. AMY: So puzzles too?

KIM: Uh huh. Playing with puzzles, being able to fit, you know, something into something. Yeah, absolutely. 

SANDY: So when we interviewed, Dr. Jody Jedlicka, she said that, you know, we actually hear with our brain, we don’t hear with our ears. And so in all of those descriptors that you’ve been giving to the listeners right now,  kind of feel like we’re going to say the same thing and we don’t actually see with our eyes. We see with our brain. Our eyes are collecting that information, but our brain is doing the interpreting that information. So let’s differentiate that. What’s the difference between vision or eyesight and visual processing? We’ve talked about it a little bit, but we might get stuck because if you say, “Oh, my child has an issue with visual processing,” would you necessarily go to an eye doctor to help you with that?

KIM: So an eye doctor is for seeing clearly, typically, and being able to track and teaming, so both of your eyes working together, is typically what you would even do like vision therapy for, unless it kind of goes into more of a cognitive area. But typically, it’s being able to see clear.  And most people that struggle with visual processing, it is not [about] being able to see clear. Most of them can see clear, right? So the light coming in, you know, is kind of  something that’s interesting too, is like, even when it comes to color, right? Like, light has so much to do with what we can see. So, for example, all cats look gray in the dark,  right? Like you can’t tell what color they are. And so our mind will kind of even place color. Sometimes it can be the same color, but if it’s in a shadow, we think it’s a different color. So, our mind does a lot of thinking for us. That’s why there are so many visual images that are kind of fun to look at. It’s like, what do you see first? Do you see the vase? Or do you see the two faces? Or do you see the bunny rabbit? Or do you see, you know what I mean? The dress. You know, the dress a few years ago, do you see it blue and black or do you see it gold and white?  And so some of that is the way the mind fills in, you know, or the brain fills in what’s not there. That’s why, too, you can have letters missing from a sentence, but you can fill it in. That’s why you can have something in front of a sign and still know it’s a stop sign, even if some of it’s missing.

DR. AMY: Okay, so to clarify then, vision or eyesight is just the ability to use your eyes to see clearly and for your eyes to work together in seeing clearly. Whereas visual processing is this set of skills that are cognitive in nature. It’s how the brain processes the information that the eye actually takes in as one of our senses. Is that correct?

KIM: But it’s a little bit more, your imagination, how you can, see things or, that aren’t there. Right. So it’s a little bit like if I were to describe, a frog  and I could describe the frog and I can change your picture. So when I say frog, most of us imagine a frog if we’ve had experience with a frog, right? But I can change your description by giving you details. So I can talk about the size of it. Maybe it’s huge or maybe it’s small. Maybe it has polka dots on it. Maybe it’s not green. Maybe it’s actually pink with blue polka dots. Maybe it has a smile on its face. Maybe it’s flattened on the road because someone just ran it over, right? So I can change your image. I can talk about what’s in front of it, what’s behind it, what’s above it, what’s next to it. And so, it’s being able to see that kind of in your head. So someone who’d be good at visual processing is usually good at finding things. They’re usually good at reading maps. They’re usually good at being able to understand, you know what, what you’re asking them or what they’re listening to or what they’re reading, right? So it’s being able to understand and learn from. You know, comprehension has visual processing has a lot to do with comprehension. Creating that movie in your head as, as you’re listening or as you’re reading, as you’re learning.

DR. AMY: Well, so that’s a great segue then into why do we need strong visual processing skills to learn? So like in reading or writing, how do we use those skills?

KIM: So, it really is making that picture right as you’re reading. So, well, first of all, you have to be able to see what letters you’re looking at right in the very beginning. So, and the orientation, like we all, it’s the letter B. Right. So you should be able to, to know that that’s a B no matter what the font is, no matter what the color is, the shape is the size is. You know, you should even, even if it’s sideways, you can still kind of tell that that’s the letter B. And so if you think of being able to find something, in letters, it could be, you know, a lot of times we even work with B’s D’s P’s and Q’s. And a lot of times that is actually association. That’s the memory of association. So, for example, a lot of people have difficulty with left and right. But they don’t with up and down. And the reason is there’s gravity.  And there’s a very big difference between the top of me and the bottom of me, right? But there’s not a big difference between my left and my right. So unless you cut like my arm off, then it would be really easy for me to know the difference between left and right, but up and down is very easy. So even when we try to reverse up and down, that’s a lot harder than left and right. And that has a lot to do with the association that you have. You could take a pen and like squeeze it really hard and I would do a lot better at knowing my left and right. If I know. that I’m holding it in my left hand.

DR. AMY: Fascinating.

KIM: Isn’t that interesting?

DR. AMY: Yeah. I had actually never thought about up and down being easier to differentiate than left and right, but that makes perfect sense. Yeah. But that’s the memory and the association of that memory because it’s so strong. You have such a strong association of up and down compared to left or right.

SANDY: Yeah, I was going to say for some kids that’s still really hard though that tends to linger like they say developmentally that that confusion between like P’s B’s D’s and Q’s lingers up until age five, six or seven, but then it should go away. What changes in the brain do you know, in order for that to happen, is that the association piece?

KIM: It’s really the association or the orientation. Nobody actually sees anything back, any, you don’t really see backwards. But you need a strong association to remember which is which. So it’s all the same shape.  But orientation that, that you’re looking at. And typically when someone is mistaking that it’s just that the association isn’t strong enough. Or they, the sound associated with that code isn’t strong enough.

DR. AMY: So there’s a memory component here too is what I’m hearing you say, that you make the association but then you have to remember the association and then be able to recall it.

KIM: Yeah, yeah. Sometimes I give an example of just even like the, okay, so when you’re thinking about like our learning model, and I know you guys have talked about that before, but all of the skills on that. So if I had an 8-year-old and I told them, “Honey, I just folded a bunch of laundry. And what I want you to do is I want you to go into my bedroom. And there are two piles of clothing. There’s your shirts and there’s your shorts. And then there’s two dresses that are hanging from the top of my bed.” Now, if I usually don’t fold the laundry in my bedroom, but do it in my living room. So there are different things that could show up in this process right from an 8-year-old. So for example, if they had poor attention, they would be like, “Wait, what?” Or they were on their way, right, and then they saw something and thought, “Oh, my ball!”  and didn’t finish it. If it’s processing speed, they’re just, they do it, but they do it really slow. So it takes them forever. You know what I mean? It’s one step at a time. And then they might forget as they’re going. If they didn’t picture it though, they might go to the couch and think, “I don’t see any clothes.” So they go back out and play, right? Or they might have, have made a partial picture. So maybe they heard me say the bed and they imagined the bed, but maybe they forgot the dresses that were hanging from the top of my bed. So when it comes to visual processing and understanding and comprehending, you need to picture like all of the details, but not too many details. Right? So you kind of want to see, you know, what are the important things? So even prioritizing is important in visual processing, being able to plan and being able to think. Does that kind of make sense when it comes to the whole … how that might play out in your house?

DR. AMY: Yes. And it also illustrates very nicely how it’s, we can’t separate individual cognitive skills completely. There’s so much overlap in there. And so they kind of push and pull on one another, depending on whether there’s a strength and weakness in one or the other.

KIM: Yeah. Yeah. They really work together. And when you think about, you know, how you learn, how you perform, how you read, all of that. You need more than one cognitive skill to usually accomplish most things, to solve most problems, right?

DR. AMY: So how do you use visual processing in math?

KIM: Mm hmm. So you definitely need it for any math word problems. Right? Because what you’re doing is you’re reading typically a sentence, but you have to imagine what that sentence means, understand it, and then you have to, a lot of times you need to even draw what you’re thinking and then solve it. So, if you have difficulty with math word problems, and you are a, you know, an okay reader, it’s typically that you’re not picturing the right thing or you’re not understanding the right thing. You know, when someone I can, I can think of, some friend, a friend that I have who, you know, if I’m meeting her somewhere, she will drive right by me, doesn’t see me. So she’s not paying attention to details. She’s not, do you know what I mean? That that’s the kind of person who you could be like waving and they’ll just go like right past you, right? So they’re not noticing details or they get lost easily, you know? Being able to read a map, Or being able to like take a picture of something when you, you know, when I used to study for school and, you know, there’s a map or a chart or anything, being able to pay attention to all those details and then also being able to take that picture so I can come back and think about it or manipulate it or move something has a lot to do with whether you have that skill strong.

SANDY: How does the ability to, let’s go back to reading for a second because you talked about comprehension. We talked about tracking a little bit. I know like for students that we see in our center. A lot of times it shows up in funny ways. And this probably goes in line with that, not noticing details, but like not recognizing a whole word when they see it. Right. There’s a memory component to it, but, you know, from all your descriptions, I can just imagine the brain is inserting things that don’t belong because it sees the H and the E and it’s thinking it’s house, but it’s really horse and it’s putting those pieces to play. Is that what’s happening? Like when a student is not recognizing whole words or they’re having trouble tracking, it’s that visual processing. That’s giving them a hard time.

KIM: Well, it’s interesting that a lot of those words that are hard to sound out are actually called sight words.  You have to, you have to see them and kind of memorize those. So those have a lot more to do with visual memory. When you’re sounding things out though, or you’re. You know, it’s interesting. You know, in the seventies, they changed from listening to the radio. You know, like my parents used to listen to the radio. Right. And so, and they would have chapter books read to them. And that is so good for developing visual processing because you don’t have the pictures, you know. In the early seventies, in the late 60s, early 70s, they came up with these great picture books and we had all the pictures in front of us, right? We didn’t have to imagine a lot of things. So it’s interesting how technology and you know, how the world changes can also develop more gaps or when it comes to the development that you would usually have in visual processing. So if you weren’t read to or you didn’t listen to the radio, your skills are probably not as good as someone who just had it delivered, all pictures delivered to them at all times. So even though I love big books and I even taught from them, it was also important to get out a chapter book and to read to my students. Right?

DR. AMY: Absolutely.

SANDY: When we were just talking about the, this weekend, because my father-in-law was in town for my husband’s birthday and he, same thing. He was one of those people that it’s all in his brain. He’s like the elephant brain, you know? Everything is trapped in there. He knows every road in the U.S. he can tell you exact, you’ll tell him a place. And he’s like, “Oh, that’s by blah, blah, blah, next to the, this road. And there’s a gas station on the corner.”  And I never thought about it being because of a generational difference. So just that technology piece.

KIM: Well, now our phones show us where to go.

SANDY: Right. Right. And like, or even like when we grew up, we didn’t have, you know, we had before MapQuest, right? Like we actually had to like know our town by driving, but anymore, you don’t really have to, you’ve got GPS. And then that feeling of getting lost, you know, that anxiety that kicks in, we don’t have that spatial recognition of where you are.

KIM: Yeah. We should purposefully actually, if we’re on a family vacation, we should have our kids reading maps and helping us navigate. You know, if you go to a new mall that you’ve never been to, and your child wants to go to the pet store, you should go look at the map and see, you know, can they find it? Right? Find it. And then can they figure out the direction and remember, okay, I’m going to have to go up to the third floor, turn left, and then, you know?  DR. AMY and I were at the Mall of America, right? Sorry, I won’t tell on you, DR. AMY, but—

DR. AMY: You can tell on me. I was going to tell him myself. So go ahead.

KIM: Just knowing “Okay, well, that should be in that corner,” right? Even in and you know, with the Mall of America, there’s a lot of visual everywhere, right? So that’s even kind of that, you know, honing in on, on, on something. But yeah, being able to navigate your way through something is so important. There are so many old things that we used to do in the day, memorizing phone numbers, which we don’t have to do anymore. Playing games in the car as we’re driving, you know, playing, “I’m going on a trip and I’m gonna bring with me,” you know, and just coming up with a rattlesnake and then developing those pictures so that you can remember those 30 or 40 items. There’s so many, when you think about it. I used to go to the park with my kids and we would lay in a blanket and we would just stare at the clouds and we would look for images that we could see in the clouds, right? Like, “Oh, look, that kind of looks like a dinosaur.” And, “Oh, now it just turned into a fish.” And it’s interesting, you know, I have adult children now and two of them live together and they live, you know, in the Tech Center in Denver. And they have a rooftop pool and I was, I was hanging out with them and we’re sitting there in the pool. And sure enough, one of my kids says, “Wow, look at that cloud. Doesn’t it look like this?” And we sat there and we played like what we saw in the clouds. They’re all in their … one of them just turned 29. And so  there are a lot of things like that, that we used to do, that moms should really think about, the ability to form pictures and see what’s not there because they’re given so many images so quickly these days.

SANDY: Can we add handwriting to that bucket? I think, yeah, well, instead of typing. Because again, it’s that visual processing. It’s getting that eye-hand, building that pathway for the brain to be able to see and make those letters with ease.

KIM: Yeah. Now, a lot of times when people do have sloppy letters, it’s actually auditory processing because a lot of times it’s the vowel sound, right? And they’re not sure which one. Well, if you make it a little sloppy, it could look like an I or an E or an O. So a lot of times when you see, a lot of doctors, right? You can’t read their writing. It’s because they’re not sure what sound that is. And they just, scribble.  So there’s a little bit of both of those in that.

DR. AMY: All right. So I will be full disclosure here. So yes, Kim and I were in the mall of America last month and I don’t have great visual processing skills. And so, we were trying to find a particular store and I finally, after looking at a map four times, finally just said to Kim, “I believe you. I believe you.” Because there was no way I was going to figure it out, especially in a place that big with that much visual stimulus. But I was the type of person, before smartphones, when I would drive with a paper map, I would have to turn the map in the direction that I was driving. I could not visualize myself on the map as the roads were changing or my direction was changing. I would have to continually turn the map to match which way I was going. And so obviously, that’s one of the skills that is not super strong in my brain. So, let’s talk about some red flags that parents should be on the lookout for that signal, “Hey, my kid might be struggling a little bit with visual processing.” What are some red flags?

KIM: So hearing, “I don’t understand this.” Hearing, “I can’t find this.” Not being able to sort. Not being able to match. Getting something just very confused are all examples of what you would find in someone who struggles with visual processing. So it’s kind of like, that you can, you can almost see there’s no movie happening in their head, right? Or not being able to, it could even be not being able to draw something or to see perception. Definitely not being able to, like with a really good description. I used to play kind of like a hide and seek with my kids. And this is something you can do as a mom or a dad. You can take some kind of an object, right? And you can hide it somewhere, but then give them a description of what it should look like. So it could be, it could be in your refrigerator and you’re describing just one jar of barbecue sauce amongst, I don’t know, in my house, we have like eight to 12 barbecue sauces. Why? I don’t know, but I guess it’s based in different things—mayonnaise, vinegar, whatever. So being able to describe that or just hiding something a box under something, you know what I mean? And giving them kind of t they have to go and find what you’re guiding them to do. So they start creating, you know, that picture in their head and know where to go and what to look for.

DR. AMY: So in the classroom, what would some more red flags look like? Maybe based on subjects?

KIM: Well, definitely anytime you’re doing word problems and somebody is confused or doesn’t understand. Not being able to answer questions after listening to a paragraph or reading a paragraph. Not being able to, you know, for example, trying to see something. Okay. Like if you see a shape or a direction. My dad used to draw like this vertical line and then he’d have like this swerved arrow that would go up and then he would ask us, “Well, what would that look like upside down? What would that look like if you were on the other side of it?” Like if you were behind the screen looking at it, you know what I mean? So a lot of that is even like if they, if they have a hard time manipulating shapes. Or not being able to identify them. And definitely just not understanding  is, you know, do you comprehend  is, you know, that you are able to understand.

DR. AMY: Sandy, you work with a lot of kids who have visual processing struggles. What have you seen when they’ve come to you? Like, what are some examples of those struggles that you’ve seen?

SANDY: Sure. Yeah. So typically, you know, tracking, definitely tracking issues we tend to see. So we do exercises to help them with that. We do those games like Kim was describing, whether you have to make pictures in your head. And for students who really struggle with visual processing, it’s really hard for them. It takes lots of repetition and practice. It’s not easy. If we introduced it to a student and they picked it up, then they just needed someone to show them what to do and then now they have a new skill that they can work with. But for students who really struggle with it, it is difficult to make those connections and to really kind of see those pictures in their head.

KIM: Having to reread something over and over again so you just know like, what do you want?

SANDY: Right.  Yeah. Or yeah. When they read something and have no idea what they just read, that shows up there. I asked about handwriting ‘cause it shows up with us for handwriting all the time. Just the letters are floating all over the page. Nothing is grounded. Just really trying to get them, to get that is it, I don’t know which visual processing skill it is, but like just spatially what’s happening. And get things to all be even so that, you know, lowercase letters are the right size compared to taller letters compared to capital letters. They can’t all be the same because visually we need to see them differently when we read, especially ‘cause we’ve got to be able to see those letters. Puzzles are hard.

KIM: And the mental tic tac toe that we do. Yeah, yeah, the three rows and the three columns.

SANDY: Trying to hold a picture that’s changing in your head over time. And then puzzles, puzzles can be really challenging. Kids who struggle with visual processing tend to avoid puzzles. They, they don’t like them. They don’t do them. So we do a lot of work.

DR. AMY: They make them angry.


KIM: And checkers, right? Like checkers being able to see one or two moves ahead.

SANDY: Yeah.

DR. AMY: All right. So, you know, a lot of times we see people with traumatic brain injury who are struggling to drive now. And a lot of times we blame that on slowing processing speed, right? Their processing speed has slowed since the brain injury. Teenagers with ADHD have a difficult time driving safely. In fact, there’s a greater incident of accidents among teens with ADHD than there is among teens without ADHD. And so we typically blame attention and focus for that. But it’s possible that we process, I mean, the weak visual processing skills could account for poor driving as well, right?

KIM: Yeah. Well, and your visual span to how much you can see around you, right? If you’re watching and what you’re paying attention to. And in scene, right? So a lot of that has attention too. So it’s not just how I’m driving, but watching the driving around me and knowing when to turn. And when you think about parallel parking,

SANDY: I was just going to say parallel parking.

DR. AMY: Which, by the way, I did on the first try last week in downtown Denver. I was so proud of myself for someone with not so great visual processing skills.

KIM: Yeah, but, but yeah, it has so much to do with driving. Driving is a perfect example of why visual processing is so important for your safety, right? And others.

DR. AMY: Right. All right. So we need to take a break and let Sandy read a success story from LearningRx. And when we come back, I want you to talk to us about just some practical things that parents can do at home to help develop strong visual processing skills. When we come back.

SANDY: Being pulled out of class for reading help in third grade through sixth grade really hurt Joshua’s confidence. He regularly referred to himself as dumb or stupid, and he often rushed through work just to get it done. His parents enrolled him in LearningRx personal brain training, something they referred to as “a complete game changer.” At the seventh-grade parent-teacher conference, Joshua’s teachers were so impressed with the improvements that they asked what interventions had created such drastic changes. Now entering eighth grade, Joshua has not only been thriving academically, but also enjoying learning and even reading for pleasure. His parents are proud to report that Joshua is feeling so much more confident that he even performed in the school musical. While your child may or may not achieve these same results, LearningRx would be happy to work with you to get answers about your child’s struggles with learning. Get started at LearningRx. com or head to our show notes for links for more helpful resources.

DR. AMY: Thank you, Sandy. Okay, so we are continuing our discussion with Kim Hansen, reading specialist, author, and CEO of LearningRx, about visual processing skills. So Kim, talk to us about some practical, easy ways that parents can help develop strong visual processing skills at home. And maybe early childhood through teenage years.

KIM: Yeah, yeah. So if you think of a smaller child, one of the things you want to do is be able to match things, right? So seeing the similarities between things. So matching is a great thing. Remember that old game of match? You could also do that with two decks of cards. You could do that with, you know …

DR. AMY: Socks.

SANDY: Sorting.

KIM: Blocks.

DR. AMY: Socks.

KIM: Oh, socks.

DR. AMY: Socks.

KIM: Socks. Yeah. That’s a great thing. Plus you get your laundry done.

DR. AMY: Exactly!

KIM: So, definitely also, describing things. So you can take turns where you describe something, right? And you could even have them draw kind of what you’re describing. You could, I used to, when I was on the airplane with my kids, we’d look at like the magazines.  And we would sometimes like study a page also just study kind of what’s on it. And then I take it away and I would ask them questions. So there you’re talking, you’re doing visual memory, but you’re also, it’s kind of like you have to kind of study a little bit. Like you have to look at all the details and notice, you know, I mean, what if I ask you, “Was the elephant facing left or right?” And, you know, “What side was the bunny on?” Those kinds of things. So being able to see that and memorize that. So being able to take pictures. I said sorting, right? I could give them cards and I could say, “Put all the black ones in one pile, all the red ones in one pile, put all the shapes …” So anything that has to do with shapes, matching, sorting is great. For younger kids, also just identifying shapes, right? That’s a circle. It’s a triangle. It’s a square. And yeah, I could also describe, so when you think of being able to put those shapes, so this is above that next to this, and you could give them blocks. I could give them fruit. I could give them, you know, different things where they have to listen to directions and create what I’m describing. Also reading to your child from chapter books, having them listen to stories on the radio can be a great thing. Like I talked about, you know, looking at the clouds and seeing things in the clouds. You could also, you know, my mom never gave us coloring books. She always gave us paper and would give us, you know, pens and crayons. But, that’s probably why I doodle so much. You know, that really encourages putting things on paper, right? Or having them draw certain shapes or thinking about just even flipping things, doing puzzles. I love to do puzzles. And even having some missing pieces and then having them match those. There are so many things that we have, like tanagrams that you could use, you like a parallelogram, which way it’s flipped. Do you remember seeing the visual picture where it’s a parallelogram and they call it like the shepherd’s table. And if you put it one way and put the legs, it looks like it’s longer or almost like a rectangle, but if you put it the other way and you add the legs, it looks like a square.  So it’s kind of like your mind can even like play tricks on you. But being able, what would it look like if you were behind the screen? So thinking about, you know, one of the things that we do with our arrows in training at LearningRx is, you know, turn the clock a quarter turn clockwise. That’s actually another indication. Someone who has a hard time telling time with the hands.

DR. AMY: With an analog clock. Yeah.

KIM: Yeah. Yeah. That can be a great indicator.

SANDY: They also say it’s an indicator of mild cognitive impairment as well. When we lose that ability to see the clock.

KIM: Yeah. Yeah, that can be a big indicator. So there are so many things that you can do, but those are some ideas. Kind of the hiding something and having them find it, giving them a few steps in their directions where they have to picture it to get that done.

DR. AMY: And then like the Where’s Waldo type books you had mentioned earlier.

KIM: Yeah, yeah.

DR. AMY: One of my favorites is the game Spot It.

KIM: Uh huh. Oh yeah. I love that game.

DR. AMY: Yeah. And so where you have to find matching, you know, images or shapes.

KIM: What is there two of.

DR. AMY: Yeah. And you race, you can race someone. Right. And so that’s super fun, you know, to play with your child.

KIM: That’s a big point too. And what’s interesting is there are visual processing. You know, when you look at what, how you test it, a lot of times you’re looking at like spatial relationships and you know, how, or like puzzle pieces and so you’re kind of matching or you’re looking at the, you know, the similarities or the differences. But also, something that’s important is the amount of time that you can do that in, right? So, when you have a timed test that is along with visual processing, there can be a big difference in the amount of time it takes one child to do something. Maybe it takes them, you know, 10 seconds. It takes another person two minutes to figure a puzzle out or to figure or to see something. So the amount of time, if it seems like your child is taking longer than it should to get something done or it’s too much effort to get it done, that’s definitely a red flag or an indicator that something is difficult. And the great thing about visual processing is it can be developed, just like all of our cognitive skills.

DR. AMY: So how would we know that doing all these really fun activities with stuff we have on hand at home with our imaginations, games, puzzles, how would we know that that’s maybe not enough for our child? Like, what would we do then, right? We’re like, “Yeah, I’ve been doing all of this. I’ve been helping them develop them, but I’m still seeing these red flags that you talked about.” Talk about what a formal intervention for a visual processing weakness would look like.

KIM: Yeah. So, when you’re working on it formally, first of all, you are using a brain trainer most likely, and they are targeting the weakness. And they can see it and you’re wanting to also overlap some of these skills because like you said earlier, it’s not isolated. Memory has so much to do with it. You know, when you want to memorize something, if you can make a visual picture, you can recall it so much better. You know, for working memory, keeping those pieces long enough so that you can use it. And so a brain trainer is going to target the weakness. And then, knows how to see what you can and can’t do. And what I love about what we do at LearningRx is we don’t work on what you can do, because you can do it.  And a lot of us are, you know, even with a lot of these like Tetris, right? That’s a fun visual game and you’re manipulating the shapes and that kind of thing. Well, if I’m good at it, I love that. Or I love puzzles if visual processing is something that I love to do. I’m going to be drawn to that. If that’s difficult for me and I haven’t had a lot of success at it, I’m going to be like, “I hate puzzles. I don’t want to play Tetris. I want to do what I’m good at.” And when you have a brain trainer, they are going to encourage you and help you change that can’t into a can. So if you want big results in a short amount of time, that’s just, you know, you need to have it targeted. You need to have it sequenced. You need immediate feedback. You need it one on one. All of those things that make up one-on-one cognitive training.

DR. AMY: And so we know from research that in, in the absence of a formal intervention, then  cognitive skills continue to decline. They don’t get better without an intervention. And so if you see a child with poor process, I mean, poor visual processing skills, and we don’t intervene, those visual processing skills will more than likely continue to get worse.

KIM: Correct. Yeah. Yeah. And it’s really hard to get anything, you know, there’s those two parts to smart. There’s what you know, then there’s how you process information. Of course, we’re on the how you process information side. But if you’re not processing information, it’s really hard to know more also, and to recall it and to understand it. Visual processing has so much to do with understanding. And if you find that someone is missing the gap, or they, some of the pieces, a lot of moms describe it as, you know,  it seems like the pieces are missing or something’s missing. If you’re seeing that kind of thing, or if they’re having, you know, you kind of have a child that’s really good at finding things. And a lot of times you have a child who’s not good at finding things. Why?  Or sorting things or matching things. And if you can’t figure out which one of those cognitive skills, the nice thing is we can. In fact, we can pinpoint the why behind your child struggling and why it’s so difficult to understand or to comprehend or to learn.

DR. AMY: So how long does it take to remediate weak visual processing skills?

KIM: Mm hmm. Well, like Sandy was saying, it can take some time. When visual processing is missing, that’s a lot longer period of time. Typically, though, we can get some pretty good results in about six months. You can even see changes within three months for sure. But when you’re really talking about someone who would be, you know, and maybe that lower quartile, you need a lot more training and it needs to be developed. And you do that through practice. You know, cognitive skills are skills, just like any other skill, when it comes to playing tennis or playing the piano. Or you know, even when I do pottery, I have to kind of see things or when I’m filling the kiln. You know, it’s like, “Okay, is that going to fit underneath that shelf when I put the next shelf on?” There’s so much trying to figure. You know, how to pack the back of your car. If that’s difficult for someone or knowing where, how to fit two more dishes in the dishwasher, those are such big indicators that someone’s struggling and you can see it at home in chores, you can see it on the soccer field, you can definitely see it in school. You can see it when they read or have difficulty reading. Yeah, it’s something to fix and it’s really the best gift that you can give your child are strong tools that they can use throughout life and learning because we’re always learning, right?

DR. AMY: So I love that about what we do is that there’s hope, right? We could, we talk about a lot of neurodevelopmental disorders and learning disabilities, and a lot of times people feel stuck, right? “I have this diagnosis. Now what do I do with it?” But we can identify weak visual processing skills and other weak cognitive skills, and there is something that we can do about it. And that’s a story of hope.

KIM: Yeah. Yeah. And even small changes can make huge differences for adults and for kids.

SANDY: This has been a great conversation today, guys. Thank you so much, Kim, for coming on. DR. AMY, let’s give our listeners some tools that might be helpful to them.

DR. AMY: Yeah, absolutely. So we have some free resources that you can access and try out even some cognitive training exercises that Kim has been describing. So we have a game pack that has some actual brain training activities and cognitive skill-building tasks that you can try either yourself or with your kids just to see and feel what building cognitive skills is all about. You can download that for free. We also are going to give you a free copy, a digital copy of Kim’s book, “Unlock the Einstein Inside,” that she co-authored with her dad, Dr. Ken Gibson, who created the LearningRx methods for kids and adults. We’re going to put a link to the free brain training exercises and a free digital copy of Kim’s book in our show notes. Or you can go to and there’s a resources tab right there on the website where you can download those as well. And then you can also check out information about all of the different programs at LearningRx and even get information about how to get started with a cognitive skills assessment, so that if you’re seeing these red flags, you can get answers about what the struggle is that your child might be having. And that’s at or at 1-866-BRAIN-01. 

SANDY: If you want to see examples of cognitive training, follow me on TikTok. I’m at the Brain Trainer Lady. I do lots of demos and share more about what Kim shared, but kind of show what it looks like in action. So, you can follow me there and get some tips.

DR. AMY: Be sure to follow us on social media at The Brainy Moms. Leave us a five-star rating and review on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. And that is all the smart stuff that we have for you today. So, we’re going to catch you next time.  Have a great week.