In the communication realm, we tend to focus a lot on sounds and words. We want our children communicating; we want them speaking, so we put our attention on counting the sounds they make, how accurate each imitation was, how fast they can repeat "patty cake", how long it takes for them to formulate an answer to a comprehension question, etc. We lose sight of how other senses and processes can impact language and communication development.
Visual Perception is considered an occupational therapy matter, so some extent. However, due to its importance in language skills, speech pathologists and parents need to understand the role our visual system plays in development. Like all senses, we can separate visual perception into different sub-skills:
Visual Discrimination involves our ability to identify how objects/forms are the same or different. We see this struggle in our children as they learn to distinguish the letters "p q b d" while reading, however it develops much earlier than this.
Prior to witnesses the impacts weak visual discrimination skills can play in reading skills, we can see how it affects our ability to complete a puzzle or shape sorter in young toddlers. Weak visual discrimination can also affect our ability to understand the differences between similar common objects such as a cup and a bowl.
Think "constant" here. This refers to our ability to understand a shape is the same, regardless of how it's been turned, colored or how near/far it is. We can think about this for reading a word in different fonts, such as the word "king" in both the Burger King sign and the Smoothie King sign. We can also think about how challenges here affect our children's ability to understand a tangible toy ball is the same as a picture of that ball, along with how a basketball and a soccer ball are both "balls" despite their different colors.
Visual memory is just as it sounds, it's our ability to store a design, word or object in our "mind's eye"and then recall this image. Tasks that challenge our visual memory are copying block designs, copying letters or words from a board, following a multi-step visual schedule. Our children need to be able to look at the steps on their schedule, complete the first one, and hopefully remember the next for a fluid routine. Reading comprehension is also influenced greatly by visual memory with our ability to not only remember the words and how they form sentences into a complete passage; but also with our ability to create that moving image inside our mind's eye for full comprehension.
Visual Sequential Memory
This area is similar to the visual schedule mentioned earlier. Once our children are ready to complete tasks without a visual schedule, it shows their visual sequential memory is improving. In regards to reading, this is also important for spelling words in the correct word order.
Remember that half-tree you had to complete the other side of? Or the gingerbread man, you were only given half and told to copy the other half. This is visual closure, the ability to understand and complete a design despite parts that are missing. This affects our ability to read and understand visual stimuli quickly. Aside from drawing tasks, you can challenge your child here by hiding items and only having a small part showing like the tail of a pig or the foot of an elephant. Can your child guess the animal given only a small part?
Visual Spatial Relations
Hand-eye coordination! This is our ability to understand where objects are in space and use this information in relation to our body. This information syncs up with our proprioceptive and vestibular system to give us the ability to dribble a basketball, pass to our teammate, receive the assist back and shoot for the 3! Children with challenges here often struggle to play sports and may have some deficits in their gross motor skills.
Visual Figure Ground
This is our ability to locate something among a mess, or array, of objects. Think about finding a target message on an AAC device. This is a real challenge for some of our children. Is it related to their fluency with AAC or rather their visual figure ground skills? Present crayons, puzzle pieces and other objects in a disarray to help build this skill.
Our vision is a lot more than just 2 eyes connected to our brain's occipital lobe. Deficits in any of our visual system's processes can related to challenges in communication and motor skills. Communication starts as gesturing, which is a motor skill of sorts. If you are concerned with your child's ability to perceive and process visual stimuli, consult your local occupational therapist for an evaluation.
Information for this article was gained from The Anonymous OT.