The Visual System

When reading this article, I hope that you are familiar with the article on the Tactile System, as it gives a great overview on what Modulation is and the impact on a child.


The visual system forms part of the central nervous system and plays a role in how we interpret our environment. The fact that we use our eyes to judge how far an object is, how quickly it is moving and where we are in space, makes the understanding of this system that much more important.

People who have a low threshold for visual input, easily gets overwhelmed with too much going on around them. I for instance fell asleep 3 times during the movie of Robyn Hood, but absolutely loved it. This was due to the busy scenes in the movie and my systems going into “shutdown mode”. So if the effect of visual stimuli is this severe in an adult, how important is it then not to understand this system in a child?


Avoidant and Sensitive children

A child who gets over stimulated by visual input will struggle to concentrate in class and will not enjoy prolonged activities which include visual input like puppet shows, unstructured painting or drawings, zooming children on bikes in the playground etc. These children will enjoy more structured play in a dolls house, building sandcastles or other pretend play activities.

Now don’t understand me wrong… These children will enjoy riding a bike, climbing the jungle gym, doing messy play and watching television, but the prolonged exposure to the visual input might push them into overdrive and result in sensory overload.  


Sensory seeking and Low registration children

The opposite is then true for children who have high thresholds for visual stimuli. They will enjoy busy environments with flashing lights and moving objects. These children are able to endure prolonged exposure to zooming bikes and puppet shows. They would also not mind messy play and watching television. (provided that the other systems are OK)


What does visual sensory overload look like?

Children who experience overload in this system would be seen

  • Closing their eyes

  • Rubbing eyes frequently

  • Squinting

  • Throwing tantrums for no apparent reason

  • As unfocussed during tasks

  • Having reduced eye contact

  • Struggling to concentrate on activities with high visual demands

  • High or low activity levels

  • Irritable


How to prevent or help the overloaded child

  • Know the child’s sensory limits

  • Create a calm environment with visual stimuli acceptable to the child

  • Notice the signs of overstimulation quickly and avoid prolonged exposure

  • Use a blindfold/ ask child to close eyes and to jump in one place

  • Give nice bear hugs with minimal visual exposure

  • Use calming visual input with darkened room


Please help your child by consulting with an Occupational therapist specializing in sensory integration.


Happy parenting