Signs & Symptoms

Visual Encoding

Is your child not remembering sight words?

If your child is really struggling with reading, he or she may be having difficulty with sight word recall. Reading may be slow and laborious.

The same simple book, read over and over, may take forever each time.

Maybe you’ve seen the word ‘mother’ appear fifteen times in “Are you my mother?” Sometimes it is even repeated on the same page. Your child may still need to sound out ‘mother’ each time it appears in the text.

This challenge is indicative of a problem with sight word recall. Children who struggle with sight word recall are not encoding and remembering what they see on the page.

These children may really dislike reading. Reading takes a long time, and the pace is so slow that it is hard to remember the content. Homework may be a challenge because it takes forever and does not feel fun. Your child may say, “I’m stupid” or “I can’t read” or start to use a baby voice, reverting to a younger age during homework time.

The child may ‘hit a wall,’ have meltdowns, yell and refuse.

Visual memory and encoding challenges may go hand in hand with phonological memory challenges, meaning that it is hard to remember how words look visually (visual encoding) and how words sound (phonological memory).

Your child may try to avoid reading all together, or he or she may insist on being read to instead of reading independently. The classroom teacher may talk about special reading groups or about enrolling your child in tutoring for reading.

Reading is crucial to success in school so this problem represents a significant challenge.

What do challenges with Visual Encoding look like?

  • Having trouble spelling?
  • Not passing the grade level sight word list?
  • Not reading fluently?
  • Trying to decode common words, like ‘where,’ ‘were’ and ‘school?’
  • Seeing the same word in a book but sounding it out each time?
  • Forgetting frequently used words like “the,” “as,” “if,” “mother” or “and?”
  • Reading a passage but leaving out and adding endings like “ed” and “ly?”
  • Taking one step forward in reading and then after a short break from school, taking ten steps back?

Why is Visual Encoding happening?

Difficulty with visual encoding of information could be related to visual memory. It may be that your child cannot recall the visual image of the word ‘mother.’ Difficulties could be related to trouble recognizing letters, letter blends and sounds. When a child is unable to remember a word from sentence to sentence, challenges with encoding (putting sounds together to make a word) and decoding (breaking the word down into component sounds) are very likely to be the underlying processing problems. A number of processing challenges may contribute to a learning disability in reading or dyslexia. 

  • Phonological Processing refers to auditory processing of sounds used to create words in our spoken language. It also involves associating sounds with letters. 
  • Phonological memory is the ability to hear and remember sounds. 
  • Phonemic awareness refers to being able to break a word into each individual phoneme, the smallest unit of sound. A child must also be able to take those phonemes and blend them into longer and more complex words. 

Many children have challenges with recognizing sight words and with remembering the rules of reading. When a child cannot visually encode information, it is much harder to recognize words and break them into small units of sound. Challenges may hold true for spelling and writing as well. When reading does not come automatically and is instead confusing and laborious, every aspect of school becomes a challenge. Therefore, it is important to identify a reading disability early and to seek treatment for your child to strengthen skills that include visual encoding and decoding. These authors recommend intervention programs that use multi-sensory approaches such as Lindamood-Bell or Orton Gillingham reading programs.

How can I manage Visual Encoding at home?

Practice rhyming. It would be good to see whether your child can recognize and produce rhyming words. For example, you could ask, “what rhymes with car?”

Teach beginning sounds and blends. Can your child notice beginning blends, such as how “black” and “blue” start with the same sound blend?

Try to break words up. Can your child visually segment words by sound and notice the difference? Bl-ue/ Bl-a-ck. See if they can delete sounds by, for example, asking them to “say “play” without the “l” sound,” “pay.”

These tasks are phonological processing tasks, similar to those found in assessments like the C-TOPP.

Consider tutoring. If your child has challenges with these exercises, you may wish to pursue specialized tutoring. The multisensory methodology that underlies the Orton Gillingham and Lindamood-Bell methods is proven to work for children who have dyslexia [2-7].

Sometimes it is best to have a specialist or private tutor work with your child because treating these challenges early leads to better reading outcomes.

Try paired reading. Your child will need a lot of reading practice with or without extra tutoring. Instead of letting him or her struggle, try paired reading. In paired reading, the parent and child read the passage together. When the child pauses, the parent waits just a couple of seconds before providing the word.

This strategy can improve reading fluency and can make reading more fun. Another method is called ‘neurological impress’ where the child and parent read the passage at the same time so that the child can grow in fluency and can work on voice-inflection. This strategy is a good one for a kid who sounds like a robot.

Try the ‘popcorn’ read. Another reading strategy is the ‘popcorn read,’ which involves alternating page by page with your child. Use books with lots of rhyming and similar word structure like the Bob Books to help build your child’s confidence.

Try computer programs. Consider programs that read the text to a child while highlighting the words. Your child can listen to a story while reading along. Some reputable computer programs include:

How can Clear Child Psychology help with Visual Encoding?

If your child is struggling with this symptom to the point that it is getting in the way of his or her learning, relationships, or happiness, it’s time to seek professional help.

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