Unit 2: Visual-Spatial Cognitive Needs

ETAP 623 Fall 2019 (Zhang) | Amber Ho | Supporting Visual-Spatial Processing Needs in a Mathematics Classroom

Students with visual-spatial processing needs may struggle to identify the correct oriented triangle


  • The participant will identify student signals of visual-spatial processing deficits through readings and videos
  • The participant will list common symptoms of visual-spatial cognitive needs
  • The participant will reflect on examples of visual-spatial processing needs seen in their own classroom

Signs of Visual Processing Issues


Here are some common signs that a child experiencing visual processing deficits may demonstrate:

  • Misunderstand or confuse written symbols
  • Are easily distracted
  • Struggle to write within margins or on lines
  • Struggle to align numbers in math problems
  • Demonstrate difficulty judging distances
  • Struggle to differentiate similarly shaped letters, numbers, and figures
  • Difficulty reading maps and other diagrams
  • Poor organization skills when solving multi-step math problems
  • Difficulty finding and retaining important information from given written texts
  • Messy hand writing or writing neatly in a quick manner
  • Struggle to copy notes from the board or from texts in general

Here are some common signs that adolescents and adults experiencing visual processing deficits may demonstrate:

  • Accurately identify information from pictures, charts, graphs, maps, etc.
  • Organize information from different sources into one cohesive written piece
  • Finding specific information on a given page of text and information
  • Remembering directions to a location


Identifying Visual-Spatial Processing Needs in Students

This video gives an example of a test or activity to do with a child of visual-spatial processing needs. The activity has students practice composing shapes, while also rationalizing why other shapes are not correctly formed from the given image.


This video gives examples of tests and activities utilized to assess visual processing skills. The video also discusses the key functions of the left and right hemispheres of a person's brain, and when administering these tests which dimension of one's processing is being analyzed.


After diagnostics have been completed and a student has been determined to have visual-processing deficits, students will most likely receive an Individualized Education Program, or IEP. This document is shared among teachers, parents, school special education coordinators, and the student as well. Click here for a quick discussion about the general format and organization of an IEP. For more information about what an IEP is, how it is made, when it is revised, and who is involved, visit this website of the U.S. Department of Education.

Visual-Spatial Processing Needs in a Mathematics Classroom

Students with visual-spatial processing deficits can easily become frustrated in a mathematics classroom without proper supports

Students with visual-spatial processing deficits may struggle with remembering patterns or sequences from left to right, as well as identify visual patterns. When identifying visual patterns, students may not be able to determine how to keep a pattern consistent or fill in missing portions of an existing sequence. This goes along with the notion of estimating distances and values given a visual representation.

One specific example of a diagnosis that falls under the category of visual-spatial processing disorders is dyscalculia. Common signs and strategies to support students with dyscalculia can be used for other students who have visual-spatial processing deficits. Though this course won't specifically review the details of this disorder, more information can be found at the links listed below:

As mathematics for any grade level often involves students analyzing diagrams and charts, these types of tasks can be extremely challenging for individuals with visual-spatial processing needs. Particularly in current math curriculums, there is a greater emphasis on incorporating visuals in learning and explaining math concepts. The goal of this is to divert away from rote memory and encourage students more creative methods of understanding and representing their comprehension of mathematical concepts. For students with visual-spatial processing deficits, this means that teachers more than ever need to determine supports and accommodations for these types of individuals in their classroom.

For more information about the encouragement of visual mathematics in today's math classrooms, read Seeing as Understanding: The Importance of Visual Mathematics for our Brain and Learning by Jo Boaler et. al.


In the Discussion, respond to the following prompts:

  • What are some clear signs that a student may struggle with visual processing?
  • Based on your current understanding of visual-spatial processing, which of the signs most strongly relate to that domain of visual processing?
  • Reflect on your own experience with students who struggled with identifying patterns and analyzing diagrams

What's Next?

The next unit will focus on analyzing strategies and supports for students with visual-spatial processing needs that can be used in a mathematics classroom. We will compare these strategies to real examples of their implementation, as well as reflect on our own experiences with students.

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