Strong Visual Spatial Skills but Struggling to Read

Struggling to read

Emma is a hardworking fifth grader who struggles to read. She is clearly bright, so both her parents and teachers wonder why she is not reading better. Emma’s parents took her for testing to figure out the best way to help her. The testing results showed that Emma has strong verbal comprehension and excellent visual spatial skills. Emma excels in solving visual puzzles and on tasks that only require visual perception and visual discrimination.


Emma’s excellent visual spatial ability means she can easily understanding things by looking at them and picturing how details fit together to create a bigger picture. These skills are important to academic success because they help Emma understand how individual parts are related to the complex ‘whole’. While Emma has difficulty sounding out words when reading and spelling, her strong reading comprehension and story recall scores indicate that she is using her visual spatial skills to create a mental image of stories so she can remember the information.


Emma’s language skills are uneven. Her verbal skills fall in the high average range. However her vocabulary, a measure of crystalized knowledge, is much stronger than her ability to use language in context, a measure of fluid reasoning. This means Emma is better at memorizing rote verbal information than thinking and reasoning with verbal concepts.


Reading requires the integration of auditory and visual skills. Emma’s performance on the Naming Speed subtests reveals her difficulty quickly processing visual information and naming it. Additionally, her struggle sounding out nonsense words indicates that Emma is not automatic in her sound- symbol associations, which is a foundational reading skill. Emma read in the average range on short untimed reading tasks by using her strong visual memory skills. Emma can read, but it requires extra time and effort. Her reading process taxes her working memory abilities and hinders her from reaching her reading potential.


Recommendations to improve reading skills:

  • Build auditory discrimination, sound-symbol relationships and auditory working memory.
    • Programs like LiPS and Orton-Gillingham build these skills
  • Build rapid naming and reading fluency skills
    • Programs like RAVE-O, Great Leaps and PACE build these skills
  • Lexia ( will enable Emma to practice and strengthen her phonic skills.
  • Hearbuilder ( recommended to develop Emma’s auditory processing and auditory memory skills.


Recommendations to Build Verbal Reasoning skills

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