Visual Scanning Activities

Article by Moody Neuro

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 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

Strokes are medical conditions that affect millions globally. In the United States, more than 795,000 people have a stroke each year, with about 610,000 cases being first or new strokes. 

These can lead to a wide range of physical and cognitive impairments. Speech and language disorders are among the most common and most challenging consequences of strokes, occurring in about a third of stroke survivors. 

Understanding Stroke-Induced Speech & Language Disorders

Stroke-induced speech and language disorders significantly impact communication abilities. Among these, aphasia, dysarthria, and apraxia of speech are prevalent. Understanding how they are diagnosed and their specific symptoms can aid in prompt and effective management.


Aphasia is a common outcome of stroke, manifesting as difficulty in speaking, understanding, reading, and writing. There are many different types of aphasia, depending on the affected brain area, and are categorized based on the symptoms present:

  • Expressive Aphasia (Broca’s Aphasia): Characterized by broken speech, limited vocabulary, and difficulty forming complete sentences. Patients often understand what is being said to them but struggle to verbalize responses.
  • Receptive Aphasia (Wernicke’s Aphasia): Patients can produce fluent speech but may lack meaning or include nonsensical words. They often have significant difficulty understanding spoken language.
  • Global Aphasia: A severe form of aphasia where individuals have extensive difficulties with both speech production and comprehension.
  • Anomic Aphasia: Individuals have difficulty finding words, particularly nouns and verbs, making their speech sound vague.


Dysarthria is a speech disorder that affects 20-30% of stroke survivors. It occurs when stroke impacts the muscles responsible for speech, leading to slurred or slow speech that can be hard to understand. It is typically diagnosed through a physical examination and a series of speech evaluations conducted by a speech-language pathologist (SLP). 

It is characterized by the following symptoms:

  • Slurred or slow speech that can be difficult to understand
  • Monotone or robotic-sounding speech
  • Difficulty controlling the volume of speech, which may be too loud or too soft
  • Challenges with the rhythm and flow of speech, including rapid speech that’s hard to interrupt or slow, drawn-out speech
  • Respiratory issues affecting the ability to speak loudly or for extended periods

Apraxia of Speech (AOS)

Apraxia of speech is a neurological disorder characterized by difficulty sequencing the movements needed for speech. This is caused by the impact of the stroke on the brain’s pathways involved in producing speech. 

Patients with AOS know what they want to say but struggle to coordinate the muscle movements to articulate words correctly. This results in distorted speech, difficulty initiating speech, or the inability to accurately produce speech sounds or sequences of sounds. 

How Long Is the Stroke Speech & Language Recovery Time?

According to one study on post-stroke speech and language therapy, approximately one-third of stroke patients experience speech problems after a stroke. Many of these individuals begin to recover within a few months, with significant progress typically observed within three to six months.

In another study, 62% of subjects had speech challenges after suffering from a stroke. By six months post-stroke, 74% were able to completely recover their communication abilities. 

However, the figures above provide a general timeline for post-stroke speech and language recovery. Stroke speech recovery time is highly individualized and can vary depending on several factors. These can include the following:

  • Severity of the Stroke: More severe strokes often lead to extensive brain damage, resulting in longer and more challenging recovery periods for speech.
  • Location of the Brain Injury: The brain’s specific regions control different speech and language functions; damage to these areas directly impacts recovery complexity and duration.
  • Age and Overall Health of the Patient: Generally, younger patients with better overall health before the stroke tend to experience faster and more complete recoveries.
  • Pre-existing Conditions and Comorbidities: Conditions such as diabetes or hypertension can slow down recovery by complicating the overall health scenario and rehabilitation process.
  • Individual Variability and Resilience: Personal resilience, the support system’s strength, and the individual’s motivation significantly influence the pace and success of speech recovery efforts.

The first three months after a stroke is a crucial period for recovery, as a majority of stroke patients see the most significant improvement during this period. However, it’s also important to note that, although at a slower pace, recovery can continue well past the 6-month mark with continued therapy and practice. 

This underpins the importance of early intervention and ongoing rehabilitation efforts, including speech therapy, to maximize each patient’s recovery potential. 

What Does the Stroke Speech & Language Recovery Process Look Like?

The journey to regain speech and language after a stroke is multifaceted and varies significantly from one individual to another. Understanding the structured phases of recovery can provide insight into what patients and their families can expect during this challenging time. 

Here’s a closer examination of each phase in the stroke speech recovery process.

Initial Assessment and Diagnosis

Before recovery can begin, a thorough evaluation is conducted by a team of healthcare professionals led by an SLP. This assessment aims to identify the type and severity of the speech and language disorder, be it aphasia, dysarthria, or AOS. The evaluation may include cognitive-linguistic assessments, comprehension tests, speech production analysis, and functional communication measures. 

Based on this assessment, a personalized therapy plan is crafted to address the patient’s specific needs.

Acute Phase

The acute phase typically occurs within the first days to weeks following a stroke. During this period, medical stabilization is the primary focus, with healthcare teams working to manage the immediate effects of the stroke. 

Speech therapy may begin with simple exercises or assessments to gauge the patient’s abilities. However, intensive therapy usually does not start until the patient is medically stable. During the acute phase, the goal is to support overall recovery and prevent complications immediately after the stroke.

Subacute Phase

The subacute phase generally spans from two weeks to three months post-stroke and is characterized by more intensive speech therapy interventions. As the patient’s medical condition stabilizes, the focus shifts to active rehabilitation. Therapy during this phase is tailored to the individual’s specific speech and language deficits and may include:

  • Exercises to improve articulation, fluency, and voice control for those with dysarthria.
  • Language therapy to enhance understanding, speaking, reading, and writing skills in patients with aphasia.
  • Motor speech exercises and strategies to improve speech planning and production in apraxia of speech.

The subacute phase is crucial for taking advantage of the brain’s natural recovery processes and neuroplasticity, where the brain begins reorganizing and adapting to the loss of function.

Chronic Phase

The chronic phase of recovery extends from several months to years after the stroke. It focuses on long-term rehabilitation and adjustment to any residual speech deficits. During this time, patients may continue to see gradual improvements in their speech and language abilities, although the rate of recovery may slow. Therapy in the chronic phase often includes:

  • Advanced communication strategies to cope with ongoing challenges in daily life.
  • Maintenance exercises to preserve and enhance speech gains achieved in earlier phases.
  • Supportive technologies and aids, such as communication devices, to assist in effective communication.
  • Community reintegration activities to help patients return to as normal a life as possible, engaging in social, vocational, or recreational activities.

What Is the Role of Neuroplasticity in Speech & Language Recovery?

Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s fundamental property to change and adapt its responses to new experiences, learning, and environmental changes. This adaptive capacity enables the brain to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections.

When the brain, or a part of the brain, is damaged after a stroke, neuroplasticity is what allows the other parts of the brain to take over the functions of the damaged area. Through targeted rehabilitation and therapy, such as speech therapy for stroke survivors, patients can retrain other brain areas to perform the lost functions and facilitate recovery.

Enhancing Stroke Speech & Language Recovery Time

Adopting a comprehensive approach involving several key strategies is vital to enhance the stroke speech and language recovery time. This multifaceted approach can maximize the chances of regaining speech and communication abilities.

This comprehensive approach must incorporate the following strategies:

  • Early intervention to leverage the brain’s highest potential for neuroplasticity in the initial period following a stroke, significantly improving the chances for recovery.
  • Alternative communication strategies, such as gestures, writing, and visual aids, to help maintain communication during the recovery process. 
  • Adopting technology, including speech-generating devices and software applications designed for speech rehabilitation, for personalized exercises and continuous practice, which is vital for progress.
  • Providing continuous support from psychologists, support groups, and therapy to help manage feelings of frustration, depression, and anxiety, fostering a positive mindset essential for rehabilitation.
  • A healthy diet and lifestyle to supply essential nutrients that support brain function, along with regular physical activity, adequate sleep, and management of medical conditions.

Begin Your Post-Stroke Recovery Journey With Moody Neurorehabilitation

Moody Neurorehabilitation understands the complexities and challenges that come with post-stroke rehabilitation. We are dedicated to supporting patients and their families through this critical time with specialized care and personalized treatment plans.

Since our inception in 1982, Moody Neurorehabilitation has been a leader in brain injury rehabilitation. Our approach centers on providing comprehensive care tailored to each patient’s needs and goals. We believe in treating the whole person, not just the symptoms, to improve overall quality of life.

We invite you to start your recovery journey with us. Contact Moody Neurorehabilitation today to schedule a consultation with our experts. Let us help you navigate the path to recovery with care, compassion, and expertise.