Visual attention

Building Visual Recognition

Over the years, I have begun to think about learners with CVI in terms of visual accessibility with two distinctly different sets of visual skills: Visual Attention and Visual Recognition. When we understand the child’s abilities in these two areas, we can understand how accessible their visual world is and how reliance on compensatory skills is so essential for educational programming.

Visual attention is the precursor to any visual recognition. It must be understood that a child simply can’t have visual recognition (understanding what they see) without visual attention (actually looking, shifting to visual elements and seeing details).  Both visually attending and sustaining that attention are essential first steps before any visual recognition can develop. Check out Jeremy Wolfe’s work on visual attention in his Visual Attention Harvard lab.

When thinking about visual attention in assessment, I am looking at overall visual attention.

  • How often does the child look?
  • What kinds of things do children look at?
  • What is the length of time that children can hold that attention on the object?
  • It that length of time enough for children to see the details and feature of that item beyond just attending to movement, light or color properties?
  • When they look, do their eyes shift to the elements of objects or pictures?
  • What is the child’s visual curiosity for the world around them?

When thinking about visual recognition in assessment, that understanding of the visual attention skills is vital. Visual recognition requires:

  • Frequent and repeated looking
  • Sustained looking
  • Looking with the ability to shift central gaze to all parts of the items
  • Recognition of objects outside context. (Is the spoon recognized as a spoon without the child being told it is time for lunch, without being in the feeding area, without food smells, the bib cueing). 

When children are extremely impacted by CVI, there is simply no recognition because the ability to attend is so very fragile. There is no real visual recognition but isolated attention to certain types of color, motion and light. They may look as if they have “favorites” but really any object of that color, with motion and with light gets the same response. There is no recognition of the object itself.

If you don’t look at items, or when you so look, you don’t look long enough to understand, you don’t shift to the visual elements, the chance of building that visual library is at great risk. It is this visual attention that becomes our focus for creating accessibility.