Pediatric Occupational Therapy: What is Visual Perception?
What is Visual Perception? Visual perception is a broad term used to define how the brain processes visual stimuli. It is distinct from “ visual acuity”, which simply refers to the sharpness to which the eyes can perceive an image, in that visual perception allows a person to recognize and identify shapes, objects, and colors, as well as judge the size, configuration, and spatial relationship of objects. (1) A child may have a visual acuity measurement of 20/20, but may still present with deficits in visual perception that negatively impact their ability to interpret visual information. Why is Visual Perception Important? Visual perception is all about your brain PROCESSING what you see, helping you make sense of it and then directing your actions accordingly. A child’s ability to make sense of what they see helps them in reading, writing and math, as well as life skills such as finding objects on a messy table or reading road signs. Its not to say that a child can’t learn to read, write and function with visual perceptual deficits, but their brains are taking on a heavier load to process the information coming in, which can slow learning and affect a child’s behavior (2) Visual perceptual skills are broken down into the following categories: I. Form Constancy refers to the child’s ability to identify or sort objects, shapes, symbols, letters, and/or words, despite differences in size or position. II. Visual Memory involves the integration of information with previous experiences. It allows the recognition of visual stimuli presented previously. III. Visual Sequential Memory is similar to visual memory in that it allows us to store and retrieve information when necessary or useful, but it specifically assists in recognizing and recalling information in series or sequence. IV. Visual Discrimination is the ability to detect subtle nuances of stimuli for matching and categorization. V. Visual Closure is the capacity to identify objects from incomplete presentations. VI. Figure-Ground refers to the ability to differentiate between foreground and background. Signs and Symptoms Some signs that your child may need help with their visual perceptual skills include:
Frustration with precise eye and hand tasks
Difficulty completing puzzles, mazes, or dot-to-dot games
Dressing: Difficulty differentiating right from left shoes, or remembering the sequence of dressing
Difficulty recognizing sight words
Behavior: Avoiding activities or becoming easily frustrated with activities that challenge visual perceptual skills, such as puzzles or handwriting.
Avoidance: They may prefer to get others to perform tasks for them under their direction, rather than actually doing themselves (e.g. “Daddy, draw me a house”)
How Can Occupational Therapy Help? Following an evaluation, an occupational therapist can help interpret the functional implications of the vision problem for the child and his or her parents, caregivers, and teachers. Understanding where the deficits are, and how it shapes your child’s perception, is the first step to helping to address the issue. Specific interventions might include:
Organizing the environment to reduce visually competing information, which may include modifications to lighting, classroom modifications, and seat positioning.
Implementing compensatory strategies. For example, for poor visual attention, strategies might include placing a black mat under a worksheet to increase contrast, drawing lines to group materials or reorganizing worksheets.
Exercises, games, and activities that challenge the specific visual perceptual skills.(1)
At Advanced Orthopedic Physical Therapy, we offer free screenings if you have concern about your child’s development, including visual processing. Should addressable areas be found, we have the environment and resources to provide developmentally appropriate treatment sessions and home programs to help your child develop visual perceptual and motor skills to promote optimal performance. (3)
1. Schneck, C, M. (2009) Visual Perception. Occupational Therapy Intervention: Performance Areas.
2. Tseng, M. H, & Chow, S, M. K. (2000) Perceptual-motor function of school-age children with slow handwriting speed. American Journal Occupational Therapy. 54, 83-88.
3. Dankert, H. L., Davies, P. L., & Gavin, W.J (2003). Occupational therapy effects on visual motor skills in preschool children. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 57, 542-549.