Visual Perceptual Skills: Real Life Applications

Visual Perceptual Skills

Occupational therapists talk about visual perceptual skills quite a bit. This is due to the fact that these skills impact many areas of development and function, including fine motor skills, gross motor skills, self-care skills, etc.

While most people understand the general concept of the term “visual perception”, many parents can become lost in the jargon of therapy when we start to talk about all of the various components of perception.

I have summarized each of these components below in the hopes of making them more relatable to real life function in the realm of OT.

Visual Discrimination

Definition: The ability to determine differences or similarities in objects or forms based on size, color, shape, etc…

Real life application: For the tasks of reading and writing, visual discrimination is critical for seeing letters or words as different. Difficulties in this skill area can make “p” look a lot like “q” or “the” look a lot like “then”.

Form Constancy

Definition: The ability to know that a form or shape is the same, even if it has been rotated, made smaller/larger, or observed from up close or far away.

Real life application: Form constancy is important for recognizing letters or words in different contexts. For example, a child must know that the word “the” is the same whether they see it written in a text book, on a marker board, or in a magazine article.

Visual Memory

Definition: The ability to recall visual traits of a form or object.

Real life application: Visual memory is important for reading comprehension. A child has to remember what they read and recognize a word from one page to the next. Difficulties with this skill can also make copying from a board or book so much more challenging. These children might take forever to copy an assignment because they can’t retain the information to transfer it from the board to their own page.

Visual Sequential Memory

Definition:  The ability to recall a sequence of objects or forms in the correct order.

Real life application: Visual Sequential memory is very important for spelling. Some children might know the letters in a word, but can’t get their order correct.

Visual Closure

Definition:  The ability to recognize a form or object even when the whole picture of it isn’t available.

Real life application: This means you can see a part of something and fill in the rest in your head. Visual closure is important for reading and comprehending what we see quickly. Difficulty with this skill might mean that a child has to study a word or sentence carefully before they know what it is.

Visual Spatial Relations

Definition: Understanding the relationships of objects within the environment.

Real life application: Visual spatial skills can be important in gross motor terms. Think of the direction, “Go put your shoes under your desk, and then come stand in front of the water fountain.”  The child must understand how to maneuver within their environment by following those spatial commands. That whole left/right concept plays a big part in this skill as well.

In fine motor terms, visual spatial relations are important for appropriate letter orientation and avoiding reversals. After all, “b” and “d” are essentially the same shape, just pointing in different directions.

Visual Figure Ground

Definition: The ability to locate something in a cluttered or busy background.

Real life application: Figure ground skills allow you to find a AAA battery in the junk drawer. A child must be able to sort out visual information to find what they are looking for. Difficulties with this skill can leave kids lost as they look for specific information on a busy worksheet.

Your child’s therapist can incorporate activities within therapy sessions as well recommend activities for home programs that focus on developing one or more of these areas of visual perception.

There are standardized tests such as The Test of Visual Perceptual Skills (TVPS) that measure each of these skill areas based on a series of multiple choice line drawings.

This test takes a bit longer to administer than some of the other OT testing. This is because there are so many sub-tests and the child’s responses are not timed. This means it could take anywhere from 30 minutes to well over an hour, depending on the child.

Therefore, because an OT might not have time in their initial evaluation, this sort of testing might not occur right away. (Unless it is a specific concern of the parent, or difficulties with visual perception are clearly impacting a child’s function.) You can ask your child’s OT if they have this test or another like it in their clinic if you have specific concerns regarding your child’s visual perceptual skills.

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About TheAnonymousOT

Pediatric Occupational Therapist
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24 Responses to Visual Perceptual Skills: Real Life Applications

  1. Reblogged this on okupasi terapi mandiri and commented:
    this is how visual perceptual skills is important

  2. Thanks, I didn’t know there was a test for visual perceptual skills. I’m going to ask our NHS OT about it.
    What you call visual perceptual skills are what we call Paying Attention in everyday life. I bet you could treat problems like Attention Deficit Disorder by working on visual perceptual skills.

    • You are right, visual attention is honestly a big underlying skill for all of these other skills. A child first has to attend to what is in front of them before they can “decode” it or understand it from a perceptual stand point. Thanks for the feedback. Best of luck with the testing!

    • bee1953 says:

      Go to pireading.com to see other ways in which visual perceptual skills impact children. And yes, Anxious Mother, you are right! These problems do impact ADHD.

  3. Luna says:

    Hi! I’m a second year OT student and we are studying visual perception right now in our class. This information is very helpfull to understand the application to real life of all of this terms. Thank you!!

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  6. Leslie Weimer says:

    Can you recommend a site for us therapists out here to get some practical good ideas to address these skills? Particularly visual closure, form constancy, and visual memory? I am really glad that I found your blog – excellent job! Thank you.

    • I usually find myself using a combination of things I’ve learned in courses, or piecing things together that I see from various sites online. I know Therapyfunzone.com has some activities on their website. Does anyone else have a good recommendation of a website they use? I can work on compiling a list of some of my favorite ideas for those visual perceptual skills.

    • Hi, I struggled to find visual perceptual resources myself, so I put some everyday ideas on my own site – OT Mom Learning Activities. In the process of researching, I found amazing printable resources at Your Therapy Source – lots of different downloadable visual perceptual workbooks for just about all the visual perceptual skills (at affordable prices) – and they do special offers on bulk buys for therapists 😉 .

  7. Leslie Weimer says:

    Thanks. I quickly looked at the eyecanlearn site and loved what I saw. I bookmarked it and I’m sure I’ll get lots of ideas.

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  9. mamanya says:

    Reblogged this on Must Read Articles and commented:
    Summary of various “visual perception” components.

  10. ala abuleil says:

    i liked this so much and I hope the more from you to help us understanding how to observe a cp child when he use his visual perceptual skills??

  11. Allison says:

    The MVPT (Motor-Free Visual Perception Test) is a great tool you can use to evaluate visual perception in children. It’s especially great for kiddos who have motor planning issues, and may give you a more accurate picture of deficits related to visual perception vs. motor planning.

  12. amanda says:

    my child has just been assessed due to the schools concerns with her fidgety nature and scruffy writing, I have long suspected that she is cleaver due to an early ability to read. She scored 99 for figure ground, 95 for sequential memory 91 for visual closure 84 spatial relations…… can these scores be used as evidence for a good memory and evidence that I can present to the school to have my daughters Iq tested…… they keep trying to imply that something is wrong with her, yet I think something is very right and that she is very board. This has been on going for 2 years.

  13. keith says:

    This is an amazing website. I am a 2nd year school psych student, and we are learning all about cognitive and processing tests. I have scoured the internet for pages that have assessments and how they are connected to everyday classroom activities. Your explanation of each section of visual perception and its association with “real life” are great. Thank you

  14. Ann says:

    I have an 8th grade student that (on the TVPS-3) scored VD: 7-10; VM: 8-5; SR: 6-2; FC: 6-5; SM: 7-6; FG: 4-3, VC: 14-0. while these scores are delayed, I feel like he should be able to function, at the very least, like a 4 year old and be able to identify various everyday objects like a hat, dog, cow, house, etc, but he can’t. Could you give me an idea about why he can’t?

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