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Sensory Processing Disorders: Promoting Visual-Perceptual Skills

written by: Barbara Smith • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 8/2/2012

Occupational therapists design sensory diets that help children to organize sensory stimulation such as movement and touch. This enables children to process information that helps to promote visual-perceptual skills.

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    Dysfunction in Sensory Integration

    Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), also called Dysfunction in Sensory Integration, is a brain disorder that impacts the ability to organize sensory information. Perhaps you have learned how the vestibular, proprioceptive and tactile sensory systems impact motor skills and attention. Good sensory integration also enables the child to interpret and process visual information in order to read and write. Occupational therapists treat dysfunction in sensory integration with activities that promote visual perceptual skills.

    Perception is the brain’s ability to interpret visual stimuli. Young children who have a good sensory-motor foundation typically learn to interpret visual information such as which line is longer or whether letter “b" has the circle on the left or right. Many but not all children with DSI have visual perceptual deficits and learning disabilities such as dyslexia. In addition, many children on the autism spectrum have DSI.

    The vestibular and visual systems are closely associated. Children with a vestibular disorder may have difficulty perceiving the relationships between objects in order to fold paper with accuracy or fit puzzle pieces together. They may also have difficulty with visual tracking so that they lose contact with the ball they are trying to catch or skip words while reading. Children with visual perceptual deficits might demonstrate difficulties with the following:

    • Climbing a slide due to difficulty judging how high it is
    • Recognizing similarity and differences in pictures or patterns
    • Seeing a particular object or figure in a picture against a busy background
    • Making letters the right size and fitting them on the lines.

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    How Therapy Helps

    Sensory integration therapy helps children with dysfunction in sensory integration to organize their brains in order to promote visual perceptual and auditory language skills that enable reading and writing.Occupational therapists provide activities rich with vestibular, proprioceptive and tactile input to build a sensory foundation. They also use multi-sensory materials to reinforce learning. For example, lacing a triangular board made of a textured material helps a child to recognize shapes. Such an activity utilizes the child’s visual, tactile and proprioceptive sensory receptors.

    Therapists also look at ways to help children compensate for visual perceptual deficits. An example of this would be photocopying and enlarging a text book page so that the student only has to look at one small portion of the page at a time. The teacher can highlight the questions that need to be answered or make the writing lines bold. These adaptations make it easier for a child who has difficulty with figure ground discrimination.

    Teachers, therapists and parents can work together to create sensory-rich learning environments. At the same time, simple classroom and activity modifications can also help children with visual perceptual difficulties succeed.