Sensory Series – Visual

Introduction to Visual Processing

abstract streetlights

It’s easy to take for granted and assume that everyone else sees the same way as each other. I remember wondering when I was younger how anyone knew that the colours that we saw were the same colours that anyone else saw – and becoming quite perplexed over how I would go about finding out the answer to that. That’s the thing with all of the area of sensory processing, it’s difficult to appreciate or even imagine how something can be different for someone else.

So with visual processing, what can this mean? We can talk about it in terms of hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity, but this is somewhat of a simplification. I will, however, start there for the sake of an easy introduction.

I discussed hyper and hypo sensitivities in the two previous posts (here and here) in brief terms, so I will now discuss them with a focus on visual sensory processing.


Hypervisual means that your threshold for visual input is low, and it will not take much visual information to reach this threshold. People who are hypervisual are likely to find it difficult to cope with environments with lots of lights, colours or movement. Multi-coloured displays will be completely distracting, the flickering of a florescent light as well. Some responses you might see in hypervisual people are:

  • Covering their eyes (with aids such as sunglasses or pulling hoods down over their eyes, or with their own hands and arms, or by squinting)
  • Turns opposite direction from someone when they’re speaking
  • Looks at things out of the corner of their eyes
  • Prefer going into rooms with the light off or playing in darkened rooms
  • regularly rub their eyes or complain of sore eyes, particularly after reading or looking at a screen
  • easily distracted by other things in the room

Whilst avoiding eye-contact is common in autism, those who are hypervisual can be more likely to avoid eye-contact or look beyond a person’s face in order to minimise the amount of visual input they need to process.


Hypovisual means that the threshold for visual input is high and as a result that individual will either be seeking visual input or will just tune out due to the lack of sensory stimulation. Once a desired visual input has been located, the individual may want to return to that object or activity or spend a lot of time looking at it to meet their sensory needs. Behaviours that you might indicate hypovisual include:

  • Staring at spinning objects or spinning self around.
  • Dropping objects to watch them fall, or sprinkling objects like sand or feathers and watching them fall. This can also be repetitive movements in front of the eyes.
  • Enjoys collecting and looking at things that light up or are brightly coloured.
  • Very cautious when going up and down steps or similar obstacles.
  • Difficulty locating specific objects.
  • Will want lights to be turned up bright or want to look at lights, torches or other sources of bright visual input.

What else?

There are other visual processing issues that do not fall neatly into the hyper/hypo categories.

  • Tracking – Individuals may have difficulties with tracking objects such as following the path of a thrown object or reading from left to right and then moving onto the next appropriate sentence. They may not be able to determine what someone is pointing at by ‘extending’ the direction of their pointed finger to the object.
  • Discrimination – This was touched on in hypovisual in the form of locating objects, but it can also manifest in difficulties distinguishing letters, sorting colours, or sorting shapes (to give some examples), or it can be difficulty in distinguishing foreground information from background information.
  • Closure – Difficulties recognising forms or objects which are missing pieces or which are partially obscured or covered. People with difficulties with visual closure cannot complete the visual image of an item by accessing previously stored visual information.
  • Form constancy – Difficulty recognising that objects remain the same even if you see them in different  environments or from different positions. This can lead to an inability to recognise that a photo represents an objects, to recognise different objects at a distance as well as up close.
  • Visual-motor integration – Which is almost like a combination of visual processing and proprioceptive processing, where it is difficult to anticipate body placement based on interacting with a visual stimuli. For example, knowing where to put your hand to get something or catch something.
  • Visual-spatial perception – This covers difficulties recognising left from right, up from down, top from bottom, and leads to difficulties in learning the positional language that goes alongside with all of these things. Visual spatial perception is something that you can see develop in almost all children and is responsible for when children do things like write letters back to front or upside down.

I’m sure there’s more – autistic author Donna Williams has written extensively about how her visual processing affects the way she perceives the world around for example, and I do not pretend that this is a complete list. As I learn more about visual processing it will be reflected in future posts.  If you yourself have any experiences of visual processing then let me know in the comments.


Disclaimer: The opinions and information provided in this post are my own, and based on personal, educational, and work-based experience. They do not reflect the opinions of any of the authors of the content referenced in this post. I am not affiliated or supported by any organisation, and this is meant to be an educational series of posts. The information posted here is not a substitute for advice and information provided by your own GP, speech and language therapist, occupational therapist or other professional in the field of autism, and should not be taken as such.



Credit – abstract fractal pattern, streetlights through bleary eyes


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