HOW OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY CAN HELP YOUR CHILD OVERCOME LEARNING PROBLEMS
by Kids First
Does your child mix up letters, confusing d and b, or p and q? Is your child inattentive and disorganized? Occupational Therapist, Morgan Webster, explains why your child might struggle and how supporting your child’s visual perception could be the key to success in the classroom.
Your child’s learning skills are closely related to their vision. In fact, studies show that approximately 80% of what your child learns is information that is delivered in a visual context. Good vision is essential for children of all ages and abilities, but when it comes to learning, your child’s visual perception skills are critical to their success.
What is visual perception?
Visual perception is more then just the sense of vision. It is connected to the way your child’s eyes function and how their brain processes visual information. Visual perception refers to your child’s ability to use visual information, recognise, recall, discriminate, and make meaning/sense of what they see.
Visual perception relates strongly to the guidance of movement, for example walking, writing, using scissors, and completing puzzles. Difficulties in this area can limit your child’s ability to learn skills that have a visual component, such as reading, sight words, and spelling.
When do visual perception problems become obvious?
Many children start to demonstrate difficulties with visual perception when they commence formal education and are in Kindergarten or Prep. You might notice that visual perception difficulties affect your child’s;
- Academic skills: Your child may have difficulty with reading, writing and maths skills.
- Life skills: Visual perception difficulties can complicate simple daily tasks, such as matching socks and learning phone numbers.
- Emotional well-being: Visual perception difficulties can affect how your child completes everyday activities and their ability to engage and socialize with their peers. As your child loses confidence in their abilities and starts to fall behind at school, their self-esteem can be impacted.
The earlier your child receives help, the better their chances are of overcoming these challenges.
7 visual perception problems that affect children
There are 7 different types of visual perception and a child can experience difficulties across more than just one area. Below I have outlined briefly each area and the functional implications they may have on your child’s learning.
1. Visual Discrimination
Visual Discrimination is the ability to see the similarities and differences between two similar letters, shapes, sequences or objects. If your child has visual discrimination difficulties, this may cause your child to:
- Mix up letters, confusing d and b, or p and q
- Have difficulty in matching shapes/symbols/letters/numbers/words
- Continue to use reversals/inversions when writing letters/numbers
- Use poor/odd punctuation and insert capitals mid sentence
- Find it hard to see mistakes they have made in their work
- Appear inattentive and disorganized in the classroom
2. Visual Memory
Visual Memory is the ability to remember information that has been presented visually, recall it quickly (4-5 seconds) and match it to an identical image from similar looking shapes. Visual memory is key in all learning and is dependent on good attention, concentration, and motivation. If your child has under-developed visual memory skills, you may find that your child:
- Has difficulty remembering items/pictures once they are removed from view
- Finds it hard to learn and recall letters, numbers, words
- Has regular spelling difficulties, especially with recognizing or writing the same words on one piece of paper
- Struggles to work from left to right across a page
- Finds it difficult to accurately copy information from the board
3. Visual Spatial Relationships
is the ability to tell where objects are in space. This includes how far things are from them and from each other. And the ability to understand concepts such as in/out, under/over, left/right, near/far, etc. If your child struggles with this, they may:
- Have a tough time reading maps and judging time.
- Appear clumsy and hesitant in movements, often bumping into things and have reduced poor body awareness
- Find it hard to judge distance, height and depth, difficulties with size awareness and discrimination
- Confuse letters such as “d”, “b”, “g”, “p”, and “Z”, “N”, “M”, “W” and demonstrate letter reversals when writing
- Find it difficult when setting out work, ruling up pages, and drawing maps/diagram
- Have messy or illegible handwriting with letters that vary in size, spacing and alignment
- Be disorganized when they work, with personal belongings frequently scattered and hard to find
4. Visual Form Constancy – is the ability to recognize and manipulate basic shapes and match them regardless of changes in the size, orientation, or presentation. This skill helps your child to distinguish between differences in size, shape, and orientation. If your child struggles in this area, you may notice that your child:
- Frequently reverses letters and numbers
- Struggles to recognise known words when they are seen in a different context
- Struggles to distinguish between similar forms “n”, “h”, “r”
- Finds it hard when copying things that are written on the board to their own piece of paper.
- Can have trouble when attempting to judge height, width, depth, distance or the size of a particular object
5. Visual Sequential Memory – is the ability to recall the exact order of symbols, words or images. Your child needs this skill to recall of sequences of letters in words and words in sentences. It is a vital part of the visual decoding skills your child needs to read and encoding skills your child needs to spell. Your child’s challenges might be evident when they:
- Struggle to write answers on a separate sheet of paper when copying from the board
- Demonstrate consistent spelling errors with the same word
- Have difficulty remembering the sequence of events, set of instructions or visual sequences such as ABC’s or 123’s
- Sometimes skip lines when reading
- Reverse or misread letters, numbers and words
- Find it hard to concentrate or pay attention
6. Visual Figure Ground – is the ability to retrieve or identify a shape or character from its busy background. Children who struggle with this may also might have difficulty finding a specific piece of information on a page or concentrating on a task written in the board when it is surrounded by distracting displays arranged around their classroom. Your child may have problems in this area if he or she:
- Appears inattentive and disorganized in busy environments such as the classroom
- Quickly loses their place when reading, writing or copying from the blackboard
- Has difficulty locating objects in a busy environment, such as finding shoes in their room.
- Tends to miss large sections of work, or fail to notice all the important words in a question
- Struggles to solve familiar problems when they are presented on a busy page
7. Visual Closure – is the ability to identify an object when only parts are visible. Visual closure also refers to the ability to recognise both the parts and the whole of an object. For example, a child who struggles with visual closure may not recognize a person in a drawing if it is missing specific features such as a smile or arms. This is because visual closure is an abstract skill that enables us to give meaning to things without necessarily having to have all the information about what we see.
Visual closure is important for reading with speed. Fluent readers tend to scan over the top of the words and use their visual closure skills to complete the word. If your child is struggling with visual closure, he or she may:
- Have difficulty with spelling because they can’t recognize a word if a letter is missing.
- Be able to read and word, but be unable to spell it (this is because blending letters into words visually is difficult for children with visual closure problems)
- Be a slow and inefficient reader
- Find it hard to identify unclear representations of familiar objects
How to help your child at home
If your child struggles with visual perception issues, extra patience and support learning support is required.
All is not lost though, because there are many ways you can help your child to demonstrate their full potential. Below are some simple strategies you might want to try at home:
- Learn as much as you can about your child’s visual perception struggles
Seek advice from a children’s occupational therapist who has experience in supporting children’s visual perception and learning. The more you know and understand, the more you’ll be able to help your child.
- Present small amounts of work at a time
Don’t overwhelm your child with long lists of sight words or a table full of work. Break tasks down into easy and achievable chunks. When you can, combine different multi-sensory approaches to learning. Help your child to use auditory, tactile and movement information to support the visual images they need to learn. (This may mean recording the spelling of words on your smart phone so that they can listen and learn. Another idea is to use play dough, blocks or other tactile objects to help your child with maths)
- Declutter your child’s homework area
Eliminate visual distractions so that your child is more successful at homework time. Only have what is required on the table for each task, and take away anything that is not of use or overly distracting during this period.
- Use visual timetables or lists of instructions
Break instructions into brief, numbered steps so that the sequence is obvious for your child. Write information in large, clear letters. Colour coding can be helpful too.
- Offer lots of time and support to practice skills
Help your child improve their visual perception skills through fun activities. Try doing simple puzzles or reading Where’s Wally? books together. Play memory matching games or spot the difference activities as a family.
- Celebrate small achievements
If your child has struggled with learning a specific spelling rule, and succeeds in their test, be generous with praise. Your support and recognition for the achievement may give your child the boost they need to keep going.
Does your child need help to improve visual perception?
Kids First’s occupational therapists have supported hundreds of child to improve their skills and learning abilities, and we can help your child too.
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