Visual Perceptual

In-home & Clinic-based Occupational Therapy

What are visual perceptual skills?
Visual perceptual skills enable us to make sense of and interpret what our eyes are seeing. More specifically, visual perceptual skills involve the brain’s ability to process and give meaning to visual information, thereby empowering us to understand and interact with our surroundings.

Visual perception is a broad skill area that can be broken down into the following categories:

  • Visual memory: Allows us to record, store, and later retrieve learned visual information (i.e., recalling what the letter “A” looks like when writing a sentence)
  • Visual discrimination: The ability to determine similarities and differences between objects in our visual field through identification of details such as color, shape, size, position, and orientation (i.e., seeing the difference between letters “b” and “d”)
  • Visual attention: The ability to attend to relevant visual information while filtering out non-essential or background visual information.
  • Visual closure: Enables us to form conclusions when we only receive partial visual information. For example, the ability to determine what an object is when it is partially occluded.
  • Visual form constancy: The ability to recognize an object as the same despite changes in size, color, context, or orientation (i.e., small square and large square are the same shape).
  • Visual figure-ground: Allows us to focus on or locate a specific object from within a busy background environment (e.g., finding a pencil from within a pencil pouch).
  • Visual spatial awareness: The ability to evaluate the position of objects in space in relation to one another as well as to ourselves (i.e., which building is closer to me?)
  • Visual sequencing: The ability to perceive items in a specific order and also to remember that order (e.g., seeing the order of letters in a word).

So, why is this important?
Visual perceptual skills are important because they enable a child to apply meaning that which is seen, which is essential in a child’s ability to function in and interact with his or her environment. Strong visual perceptual skills are crucial for success with academic tasks, such as reading and handwriting, as well as with activities of daily living, such as locating a shirt from within a closet and assigning shoes to the correct feet. Additionally, visual perceptual skills facilitate social relationships with peers, as this skill area is necessary for understanding concepts of personal space, as well as the position of one’s body in relationship to others.

Moreover, visual attention skills allow engagement with peers by enabling children to filter out background visual stimuli and better attend to a conversation or activity (i.e., puzzle) completed with a peer. Lastly, visual perceptual skills also act as a foundation for visual motor tasks that require the integration of visual input with motor output, including cutting with scissors and copying letters and numbers. Overall, visual perceptual skills are foundational in minimizing frustration and maximizing success and independence across academic, home, and community contexts.

What are some signs of challenges in this area?
Signs that a child may be experiencing challenges with this skill area may include the following:

  • Confusing similar-looking letters or numbers (i.e., M & N, b & d)
  • Letter or number reversals when writing
  • Requires extra time to recognize familiar words
  • Difficulty distinguishing between similar forms, such as a square and rectangle
  • Displays confusion and fatigues quickly when looking at busy visual displays
  • Difficulty recognizing a word or object if it is only partially shown
  • Frequently loses place on the page when reading/writing
  • Struggles to find objects in a drawer

How can OT help?
Occupational therapists can work with children and their families to aid in the development of efficient visual perceptual skills that enable participation and confidence in all contexts that they may encounter. Occupational therapists frequently work one-on-one with children to strengthen visual perceptual skills through targeted yet engaging interventions, such as hidden picture games, navigating through an obstacle course, and copying building block designs from a model.

Additionally, occupational therapists may implement strategies that can be carried over at home or in the classroom to maximize success. For example, an occupational therapist may recommend use of visual cues (i.e., a colored sticker) to act as a reminder for which side of the page to start reading or writing on, or reduction in visual clutter on a worksheet (e.g., present one math problem on a page at a time). As a whole, the goal of occupational therapy interventions is to set children up to be successful in all areas by providing them with the skills, tools, and resources necessary to do so.

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