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Evaluating Visual Perceptual Skills in Young Children

written by: Barbara Smith • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/7/2012

Visual perception is the brain’s interpretation of what one sees. We can observe its development as young children respond to the people and things that they see and grasp. But how do parents and teachers know when these skills are developing normally for special needs students?

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    Early Observation and Vision Testing

    The first step in evaluating visual perceptual skills in young children is to make sure that babies are able to focus. If a baby appears to be nonresponsive to a familiar face or moving objects-have him evaluated by an optometrist. A machine called a retinoscope can assess visual acuity (ability to focus) and correct blurriness with glasses. Young children demonstrate their visual acuity and visual perceptual skills when they are involved in the following activities:

    • Point to details in pictures
    • Place a circle, then a square and triangle in a form board
    • Nest two then three cans
    • Recognize and points to animal pictures
    • Match objects, objects to pictures and finally pictures to pictures
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    Developmental Checklists and Evaluations

    Educators and therapists use checklists of skills that are expected to be attained at different ages and standardized evaluation tools that look at quality of skills. Popular assessment tools include:

    • The Hawaii Early Learning Profile (HELP) (for children 0-3 years of age)
    • Peabody Motor Scales (for children 0 to 5.11 years)
    • Preschool Visual Motor Integration Assessment (PVMIA) (for children between 3 ½ and 5 ½ years of age).

    The HELP is a checklist that includes a vision and fine-motor skills section. The Peabody Motor Scales and PVMIA focus on how children combine the use of vision and movement together to manipulate objects. They are excellent tools to assess the visual perceptual skills of children in preschool and young kindergartners.

    The following test items on the Peabody Motor Scales assess the child’s visual perception as well as motor coordination:

    • Copies block designs: train, bridge and steps
    • Copies lines and shapes
    • Folds paper
    • Colors between lines

    The PVMIA involves copying block designs and drawing shapes. Young children who have difficulty with these types of tasks may have visual perceptual difficulties that will impact learning to read and write.

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    Evaluations that Assess Non-Motor Visual Perceptual Skills

    By around three and a half years of age children develop the skills to look at a stimulus picture and then find the identical picture when given a choice of three. This type of visual perceptual testing is called “non-motor" or “motor-free" because it does not involve manipulating objects. In addition to manipulation tasks- the PVMIA includes a subtest that involves pointing to matching pictures of block designs.

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    Evaluating Children in Early Grades

    The Developmental Test of Visual Perception (DTVP) is another useful evaluation tool that assesses both motor and non-motor skill in children between 4 and 8.11 years of age. The DTVP consists of the following 4 visual motor subtests and 4 non-motor tasks that involve choosing pictures:

    • Eye-hand coordination (performing mazes)
    • Copying (drawing shapes)
    • Spatial Relations (Copying grid dot designs)
    • Visual-Motor-Speed (drawing lines inside shapes)
    • Position in Space (finding picture that is facing in same direction)
    • Figure Ground discrimination (finding same picture embedded in busy background)
    • Form constancy (finding picture that is same shape even if it is a different size, color or rotated)
    • Visual closure (finding the same shape when the lines forming it are incomplete)

    Parents, teachers and therapists should observe children in various environments to further assess visual perceptual skills. Things to consider are whether children have difficulty discriminating shapes or pictures or avoid coloring, puzzles and books. Early evaluation and therapy may help these children develop the visual perceptual skills needed to read and write.

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