What is visual-spatial processing?

By Kate Kelly

At a glance

  • Visual-spatial processing tells you how far objects are from you and from each other.

  • People use visual-spatial processing for many tasks, like tying shoes and dancing.

  • Visual-spatial trouble can make it harder to learn to read and do math.

You may not have heard of visual-spatial processing. But you’ve definitely used it. It helps adults do things like find their way home from a new neighborhood or merge in traffic. And long before kids are ready to do either of those things, visual-spatial processing skills help them function in the classroom and on the playground.

Visual-spatial processing is the ability to tell where objects are in space. That includes your own body parts. It also involves being able to tell how far objects are from you and from each other.

People use visual-spatial processing skills for many tasks, from tying shoes to reading a map. 

People also need visual processing skills to make sense of letters and numbers. For example, look at “6” and “9” and “W” and “M.” They have different meanings depending on how they’re rotated on the page. 

Many tasks involve more than one kind of visual processing skill. For example, when kids practice dance moves they see in a TikTok video, they’re using visual-spatial processing skills. But they also have to remember what they saw, which is a different visual processing skill.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Kate Kelly has been writing and editing for more than 20 years, with a focus on parenting.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Linda Reddy, PhD is a professor of school psychology at Rutgers University.