What are visual perceptual skills?
Visual perceptual skills are the brain's ability to make sense of what the eyes see. It is important for everyday activities such as dressing, eating, writing, and playing. There are seven different categories of visual perceptual skills. We will review each of these categories, as well as some visual perceptual activities that are helpful for children.
Visual Spatial Relations
Visual spatial relations is the ability to determine one form or part of a form that is turned in a different direction than the others. This is why some of our children have such a hard time recognizing b and d or p and q. They don't understand that just because it's rotated, it's a different letter. They also have difficulty differentiating between in and out, over and under, and left and right, because those are spatial skills concepts.
Sequential memory is the ability to remember a series of forms and find it among other forms. If your child is having a hard time sequencing the alphabet, or copying from one place to another, this may be a problem with sequential memory. Sometimes, even with older elementary children, when they're copying sentences off the board, they will skip words. Or, when a child is copying sentences, they're copying one letter at a time. They're not seeing it as a whole word that they can write, but just each individual letter. This is a sequential memory problem.
Visual discrimination is the ability to differentiate between objects and forms. This includes skills like being able to identify money and sort coins or other objects. If they're not able to discriminate the differences between or the similarities between objects or pictures, they're going to have a difficult time differentiating between n and m, b and d, and p and q.
Form constancy is the ability to see a form and find it among other forms, although it is sized differently or rotated. Again, this is going to be a reason why some children will have trouble recognizing letters and numbers (e.g., recognizing that 6 and 9 are two different numbers).
This is a little different than visual sequential memory. Visual memory is the ability to store visual details in short-term memory, such as recalling a phone number. Reading comprehension is going to be affected when visual memory is deficient. Think about showing a photograph to someone, and then taking it away and asking them questions about it. A child who has problems with visual memory will have difficulty remembering facts about the picture.
Visual closure is the ability to fill in the missing details into an incomplete shape. This requires abstract problem-solving. A good example of this is working on puzzles; being able to put a picture together in your mind and piece it together correctly. This also will cause a problem with writing and spelling. With spelling, a child with visual closure deficits won't know the ends of the word or the middle of the word. For writing, a child with visual closure deficits will not be able to know if a word is complete.
Visual Figure Ground
This is the ability to perceive a form and find it hidden in a conglomerated ground of matter. For example, ask a child to find the blue crayon in their pencil box. Visual figure ground is being able to filter out all the other crayons to look for that blue crayon. The adult equivalent of using visual figure ground skills would be when we are rummaging through our junk drawer to find something we need. Hidden picture activities are useful for children to work on their visual figure ground skills (e.g., Highlights books or Where's Waldo books).
Some examples of activities to encourage visual perceptual include:
- Paper mazes and marble mazes
- Connect the dot activities
- Hidden pictures
- Copying pictures or forms. You can start with various simple shapes, just copying, and then interlock shapes together on paper and have them copy that as well.
- Wooden blocks
- Matching and sorting
This Ask the Expert is an edited excerpt from the course, Foundational Skills and Activities for Handwriting, by Dena Bishop, OTR/L.