Visual scanning skills are essential for processing information in our daily lives. However, some individuals might have issues with recognizing ocular stimuli for a variety of reasons. Luckily, several activities exist that are not only helpful for improving visual scanning skills, but are also easy and fun.

In this blog we will go over the definition of visual scanning, some of the causes of visual scanning issues, and three of our favorite visual scanning activities for adults.

[Related: What Are the Top 10 Most Common Traumatic Brain Injury Symptoms?]

What is Visual Scanning?

Visual scanning refers to the ability for individuals to use ocular strategies to efficiently, quickly, and actively explore various relevant visual information. This type of visual stimuli can include faces, objects, scenery, and certain written information. Visual scanning is a crucial skill for daily life, and helps individuals process information and complete a number of different tasks. 

Importance of Visual Scanning

Visual scanning is important not only to be able to process visual information, but for mobility as well. Poor visual scanning skills can prevent an individual from avoiding obstacles when moving through their environment, causing collision. 

It can also help individuals with daily tasks such as finding missing items, organizing a table or cleaning a room, or locating a friend in the middle of a crowd.

What Causes Visual Scanning Problems?

Many brain injured patients have difficulty with their visual scanning skills. This can be due to many problems such as partial loss of vision, left neglect or visual-spatial deficits. Often, but not exclusively, these problems are associated with an injury to the right side of the brain.

[Related: Disorientation and the New Year]

Visual Scanning Activities

The following are three visual scanning activities that are interesting and easily organized.

Hidden Pictures Puzzles

One way to practice scanning skills is by using hidden pictures puzzles. Many people are familiar with hidden picture puzzles from children’s magazines. They involve a larger picture having many smaller items hidden within it. The goal is to locate the smaller hidden items. “Highlights” magazine has a number of free hidden pictures puzzles that can be printed from their online website: Hidden Pictures.

Although this is a fun way to practice scanning skills, it can be quite difficult, and some individuals may need help from loved ones to work on these puzzles.

I Spy

An easy (and free) way to practice visual scanning skills is through an adaptation of the game “I Spy.” 

The adapted version of “I Spy” is a very simple game to play. To begin, you need at least two participants. Then, pick a location or room with lots of items to see, but which isn’t so familiar that everyone knows the location of the items by heart. 

One person is the “spy” and has to choose an item that is visible to everyone. The spy then says, “I spy with my little eye (the item).” It is now the job of the other players to point to the item and show that they have found it.

Vary Location and Items

When “I Spy” is used to practice scanning skills after a brain injury, it is important to vary the location and the items that are being “spied.” For instance, you may first want to choose an item on the right side and then an item on the left side. Varying locations forces a person to scan the entire visual field. 

[Related: 10 Supportive Traumatic Brain Injury Resources for Parents]

Be Aware of Physical Handicaps

If this game is being played with someone in a wheelchair or with other physical disabilities, make sure that each item can be seen from their visual perspective. For example, often items that are easy to see when standing are obstructed when sitting.

Choose Large Enough Items

Also, make sure that the item is big enough to be clearly seen by all of the players. Sometimes a person with a brain injury loses some of their visual acuity due to the effects of the injury and may not be able to clearly see small items. If the person playing has left neglect, they will likely need extra help and direction to scan the left side of the visual field.

“I Spy” is one of the easiest, most portable visual scanning activities to practice active visual scanning and search techniques while still having fun.

Telephone Books and Supermarket Circulars

One convenient and practical way to work on scanning is for the patient to practice with a telephone book or coupon circular. 

The idea is pretty straightforward. The patient is tasked with locating various items found in the advertisements of the telephone book’s yellow pages or in a supermarket circular. You’ll want to pick items in a random order so as to prevent the individual from figuring out where each correct item is without really working on their visual scanning skills. 

Visual Scanning in Yellow Pages

For example, if you are using restaurant ads in the yellow pages, you may first have the survivor find the hours of operation from an Arby’s ad in the top left corner, and then the address of a Taco Bell® advertised on the bottom left of the page. You can follow this up with the Domino’s®  Pizza phone number down at the bottom right. 

Visual Scanning in Supermarket Circulars

The supermarket circular can be used in the exact same manner.

As an example, you could ask the patient for:

  • the cost of the Oscar Mayer® bologna in the top right corner of the page
  • the size packaging of the Frosted Flakes® cereal in the bottom left corner
  • the Hebrew National hot dogs back up towards the top right of the page.

[Related: How Long Does it Take to Recover From a Traumatic Brain Injury]

It’s important not to tell the patient where on the page each item is located, but allow them to naturally search on their own. This activity should use all parts of the page, including the center.

Offer Assistance

If they cannot find the material,  loved one should prompt the individual to conduct a slow, organized search for the item in question. In the case of left neglect, a search should always begin on the left side. A slow up-down search rather than side-to-side works best. 

If the patient is missing the right visual field in both eyes, the search should always begin on the right side. If they are missing the left visual field in both eyes, the search should always begin on the left. Missing both the right or both the left visual fields is known as homonymous hemianopsia.

Ensure Information is Visible

To help this task go smoothly, you’ll want to keep in mind a few things. You will want to ensure that the information can be easily seen by the patient. Sometimes the writing in phone books and circulars may be quite small. In this case, the person may need to use reading glasses. Or, they might need only to work with the bigger items on the page.

Work with Display Ads

When working with yellow pages, it is better to pick pages with lots of display ads rather than listings. We do not advise using the white pages. The writing is too small, placed very close together, and is always in obvious alphabetical order. Supermarket circulars are generally much better for this task since they will tend to list more items. 

Highlight the Page

If the patient has left neglect, it may be helpful to highlight the left side of the page. Or, put a bright object (such as a strip of paper) on the left side. Additionally, some individuals benefit from the use of a line reader (such as a ruler). This helps with their ability to focus on one section of information at a time.

[Related: Choosing a Brain Injury Treatment Clinic]

Contact Moody Neuro Today!

Since 1982, Moody Neurorehabilitation Institute has been a pioneer in the field of post-acute brain injury treatment and rehabilitation. 

Learn more about Moody Neuro’s brain injury treatment programs and services, and how we can help with neuropsychology and counseling, speech and language disorders, physical therapy, outpatient rehabilitation assistance, community integration programs, and occupational therapy.

Featured image via Unsplash

Moody Neurorehabilitation Institute (Moody Neuro) provides personalized care to treat the unique challenges of brain injury with the singular purpose of achieving the best possible outcome for patients and their families.

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