Sensory Processing: The Visual System

Categories: Sensory | Sensory Series

We’ve taken a little break from the sensory processing series, and now it’s time to get back into it.  So far in this series, we’ve explored the proprioceptive, vestibular, tactile and oral sensory systems. Today, let’s explore the visual system. I will summarize and highlight information here in this post, but there is so much more to learn when it comes to any of the sensory systems.  Check out this post and this post for links to references you can explore if you want to learn even more!

What is the visual system?

The visual system is our sense of sight.  Some may consider it the most influential sense.  Our sense of vision helps us understand what is happening in the surrounding environment.  In order to do this, the eye and brain work together to take in information from the world around us and make sense of it.  The visual system helps us understand color, motion, shape and orientation of objects in our environment.  

Why is it important?

The visual system is closely tied to many important daily living and education tasks, including reading, writing and getting dressed.  The visual system works with the vestibular and auditory systems to help us navigate and move around our environment safely.

What does it look like when a child is having difficulty with this system?

If a child is having difficulty with the visual system, he may display some behaviors that can impact his ability to learn or perform important daily routines.  In general, we can overrespond, underrespond or seek sensory input. Check out this post for an overview of those terms.

Some children may overrespond or avoid visual input.  For these children, visual input can be too much.  You may see these children cover their eyes or squint.  Bright lights are bothersome.  They may be distracted or overwhelmed in busy environments and may avoid eye contact. 

Some children may underrespond to visual input, which means they need more visual input to make sense of it.  They may miss visual pieces of information.  These children may stare off, loose track of things, may have difficulty discriminating letters, difficulty tracking or loses spot when reading a lot.  This student may have difficulty finding items in the environment.  

Then there are the students who seek visual input.  Students who seek visual input tend to move items close to their eyes, may enjoy shiny toys or spinning items, as well as visually complicated TV shoes and video games.  


What can I do?

There are many strategies you can use to meet the needs of all students in your classroom when it comes to the visual sensory system.

For students who overrespond, think about ways to simplify and reduce visual input during their day.  Try dimming the lights, reduce clutter on the walls and on worksheets. There are light filters that you can put over the fluorescent lights in your classroom to make them softer.  Some students may benefit from sunglasses if the bright light is too much.  You might also consider having a tent or a space where a student could go to totally shut off the world visually.   

For students who underrespond, you need to think of ways to give them more visual input so they can register it.  Visual cues are so important. Using tape is a cheap and easy way to do this!  Try putting tape on the floor where the student should stand, put tape on the locker or cubby to help him find it.  I’ve also used tape to indicate where to make a pile when sweeping for transition age students practicing life skills.  For more traditional pencil paper school tasks, try putting a colored piece of paper behind the writing sheet to bring visual attention to it, and try adding visual cues to the paper itself like highlighting or bolding the writing lines.  

For students who seek, try to incorporate opportunities for them to get the visual input they need in appropriate ways during the day.  There are many fidgets out there with interesting visual components, as well as toys such as the rainstick that students who seek visual input really enjoy.  You can try some iPad apps, such as Plazma, Magic Fluids Lite, or Magma – all are free and offer a lot of visual input.  Finally, consider incorporating I Spy activities, mazes, word searches and puzzles into your students’ day.


  • Occupational Therapy for Children, 5th edition
  • Sensational Brain Sensory Symptoms Checklist


This blog is for informational purposes only.  Please consult your OT for specific recommendations.


  1. I did not know that there are apps for visual needs for students. I guess the term “There’s an App for that” is true in all spectrums. The visual cues remind me of the students that use the color overlay and how that really helps the student read or focus on the text.

  2. Yes! Love that example. Thanks for sharing Andrea 🙂

  3. Thank you for sharing. This was a wonderful resource for a more detailed explanation of sensory visual seeking.

  4. So great to hear! Thanks for reading 🙂


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