Dana Stahl, a learning specialist and educational consultant, will address educational questions and concerns that parents may have regarding their children’s academic development and progress in school. Topics can center on how to handle homework dilemmas to what questions to ask at a CSE meeting. Questions can range from “How best do parents advocate for their children?” to “How do parents interpret formal tests that have been administered?” to “What schools and colleges are right for my child?”

Readers can write to Dana at dana@educationalalternativesllc.com. Dana will respond to one reader’s question a month. Dana hopes that her response will alleviate parents’ concerns and offer useful educational advice.

What is the relationship between motor and visual perceptual skills? And how do difficulties in these areas impede academic readiness in school?

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A. While motor and visual perceptual skills are often closely associated, they can be separate and distinct. An individual with a motor problem does not necessarily have a visual perceptual problem. Trying to discern the difference is the reason that specific assessments are administered.  Tests using a motor requirement are assessing visual-motor integration, and are therefore sometimes thought to measure visual perception. The Motor-Free Visual Perception Test, developed by Colarusso and Hammill, assesses spatial relationship, visual discrimination, figure ground, visual closure, and visual use of a motor component.

Specific information is obtained through each of the above subtests. Spatial relationship assesses the ability to orient one’s body in space and to perceive the positions of objects in relation to oneself and to other objects. An example of this includes the reversal of letters or patterns in relation to one another. Visual discrimination assesses the ability to discriminate dominant features in different objects. Examples of this include the ability to discriminate position, forms, and letter-like forms. Figure ground assesses the ability to distinguish an object from its background. Visual closure assesses the ability to identify incomplete figures when only fragments are presented. Examples of this include being able to identify partially completed familiar objects such as dogs, cats and various shapes. Visual memory assesses the ability to recall dominant features of one stimulus. This is closely related to visual short- term memory. Short-term memory is assessed by requiring the child to reproduce a geometric figure from memory. Visual sequential memory is assessed by requiring the child to place in order a sequence of non-symbolic figures from memory.

Children’s abilities to correctly copy geometric forms correlate significantly with their academic development. Correlations have been noted between form-copying tests and readiness tests in Kindergarten and between copying and early reading achievement. Children can have well developed visual and motor skills but be unable to integrate the two. The VMI (Developmental Test of Visual Motor Integration), developed by Beery and Buktenica, has demonstrated academic correlations in reading and math in primary-age children.

The relationship between perceptual development and conceptual development is crucial to understanding the relationship between motor and visual perceptual skills and how it affects learning.  Some specialists theorize that adequate conceptual development is dependent upon appropriate perceptual development. Perceptual motor match involves the coordination of the eyes and hands. In fact, Kephardt, a leading developmentalist in this field, believes that motor development precedes visual development.

If your children are having difficulty with pen and paper tasks, or in visually identifying or recognizing objects, or remembering specific patterns or sequences, it is appropriate to explore whether they are exhibiting visual or motor perceptual difficulties. Raise your concerns with their teachers and ask that the Motor-Free Visual Perception Test and the VMI be administered to ascertain specific information that will be needed in helping to identify any potential difficulty that can be remediated through direct intervention.

Dana’s educational consultant practice focuses on assessment, advocacy and school placement for students with learning disabilities and social-emotional challenges (educationalalternativesllc.com).