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Understanding Visual Perception and Visual Motor Skills 

Mar 07th, 2023 | by Miranda Dichairo, MS, OTR/L

Miranda Dichairo, MS, OTR/L

March 07th, 2023

Imagine you’re standing in a park and enjoying the weather, when you suddenly see something coming toward you. How big is it? What shape is it? How fast is it going? When it gets closer to you, do you reach your hands out to catch it, or do you cover your head to avoid being hit? In that brief time, you are using your visual perception and visual motor skills to communicate and form a response to the ball coming toward you. 

Visual and motor skills are the foundation of most of our daily activities.

For some, these skills develop appropriately, allowing us to perceive, judge, react, and perform efficiently within our environments. For others, these skills need some fine-tuning to perform to our best ability. 

What Are Visual Perceptual Skills? 

Visual perception helps us to gather information, process it, and give it meaning. When we have deficits in visual perception, it can be difficult to interpret our environment. Visual perception is not the same as visual acuity, or the clarity of vision, but having poor vision can make other aspects of visual perception more challenging. 

Areas of Visual Perception 

1. Visual Closure

Visual closure is the ability to identify objects even if a part of it is missing. For example, if half of a pencil is covered, we have an idea of what the full image looks like because our brain “fills in the blanks”. Deficits can present as having difficulty finding an item in a drawer if part of it is hidden. 

2. Visual Form Constancy

Visual form constancy is the ability to notice that two objects are the same, even if they are different in size, color, etc. For example, we can recognize familiar letters when presented in different fonts, or when looking at them upside down. Deficits can present as confusing letters that look similar, such as “p, q, and g” or “b and d”. 

3. Visual Discrimination

Visual discrimination is the ability to classify objects and forms by their size, shape, color, texture, and orientation. For example, we notice similarities and differences in letters and words, helping us to read more fluently and accurately. Deficits can present as having difficulty with puzzles or losing your place while reading. 

4. Visual Memory

The ability to store visual details in short-term memory. For example, we can remember something, and then draw, write, or recall it, such as “sight words”. Deficits can present as poor spelling, difficulty copying words and images, or writing slowly. 

5. Visual Sequential Memory

Visual sequential memory is the ability to recall a series or sequence of forms. This helps us to follow multi-step directions or recall lists. Deficits can present as struggling to remember phone numbers, difficulties with reading comprehension, or inability to recognize spelling errors. 

6. Visual Figure-Ground

Visual figure ground perception is the ability to locate and identify shapes and objects within a busy visual environment. For example, we can find a matching pair of socks in a pile of laundry. Deficits can present as difficulty playing “I spy”, difficulty finding a toy from a toy box, or preferring simple images to more complex ones. 

7. Visual Spatial Relations

The ability to organize the body in relation to objects in order to understand the space around yourself. For example, we can reach for objects accurately without over- or under-shooting. Visual spatial deficits can be seen as difficulty walking through tight spaces without running into our surroundings, or struggling to write within the lines. 

What Are Visual Motor Skills? 

Visual motor skills allow us to use our hands and eyes to work together to guide and complete motor tasks. It requires coordination of the visual system, including visual perception and ocular motor skills, as well as the motor system, to perceive visual input and then execute movements.  

Areas of Visual Motor Skills 

1. Visual Perception

Making sense of what we see (see above).

2. Visual Processing

How the eyes coordinate, move, and collect information through ocular motor skills such as visual attention and fixation, tracking, convergence, divergence, and saccades. Visual processing relies on visual efficiency, or the effective use of visual information. Deficits in visual efficiency are typically referred to as visual processing disorder.

3. Hand-Eye Coordination

Hand-eye coordination uses visual input effectively with the hands to manipulate objects or reproduce forms. Hand-eye coordination often requires fine motor dexterity, fine motor strength, shoulder stability, core stability, and timing.

Find Additional Resources in the NAPA Blog:

About the Author

NAPA Boston occupational therapist Miranda loves using a play-based approach when working with kids to reach their goals! In her free time, she enjoys drawing, and anything outdoors such as hiking, camping, and snowboarding. She hopes to visit all National Parks one day! 

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