When someone says your child has a visual motor problem, there are often some underlying elements that contribute to the presentation of the visual motor deficit. Visual motor issues may not just be from difficulties with visual perception or integrating vision with motor demands. In this article, I will discuss different reasons your child may score low on visual motor testing how to address these deficits to improve writing and drawing skills.
Muscle Grading and Coordination
The child has difficulty coordinating and grading finger muscles in order to control the pencil. This makes the figure looks poorly formed and inaccurate when the child copies it, driving down their score.
Try this Exercise:
Warm up with putty/clay/play dough to bring awareness to the muscles of the fingers. Have the child practice coloring using push/pull, side to side, and circular movements inside smaller shapes without moving his/her wrist. Draw a series of dots close together on a vertical surface and have the child try to go over and under the dots, using his/her fingers to push and pull. Programs such as Write from the Start, available on Amazon, also have worksheets that facilitate pencil control without focusing on design coping or letter formation. Sometimes using a pencil grip just during the “training” exercises can help facilitate the appropriate grasp pattern that allows the fingers to move in a more dynamic way until they become stronger and more coordinated.
To get activities and worksheets to address this, click here to purchase our Body Activated Learning Supplemental Activity Pack .
Functional Vision Deficits
There is a deficit in ocular motor control resulting in a visual monitoring issue. When a child’s vision does not guide hand movement, the chances of getting the size of the lines right with shape and letter formation will be low.
Try this Exercise:
Train the child’s visual system to work together with their hand in to guide what the fingers are doing. You can teach visual attention shifting by using a white board or chalk board with dots positioned vertically up and down at varying heights across the board. Have the child draw a line between the dots, stopping at each dot. If the child is not looking before moving the marker/chalk, help the child to tap back and forth between the starting and stopping dot three times before drawing the line. This engages the tactile and proprioceptive systems to support visual attention shifting.
To get activities to teach a child’s vision to guide their body, click here to purchase our Body Activated Learning Supplemental Activity Pack.
When a child performs well on visual perceptual testing and you know that they have “seen” the design correctly, sometimes the child is still not able to translate what they see into a plan in order to copy the design. A child might not know where to start, what order to draw the lines in, or how to draw intersecting lines, leading to segmenting the design. Kinesthetic reversals of designs and letters are also often the result of starting in the wrong spot. 2,5,7,3, b, d, N, and Z are commonly reversed when starting a curve or line in the wrong place or direction. To address this, you need to retrain the motor plan: Get away from tracing activities where a child can just focus on staying on the line, even if they don’t draw in the right order.
Try These Exercises:
A. Do dot to dot activities. Make the design, such as a square, putting dots at each corner and numbering them in the direction they should be forming the lines: Down, over, up, over. Do the same with letters, eventually fading the numbers and maybe just using a different color for the starting dot. Have the child repeat the sequence with their eyes closed to internalize the motor plan, engaging the kinesthetic feedback system.
B. Draw a multi-part design on the board. It could even be a simple stick animal. Then teach the child how to approach the design, typically by starting with the large/more central shape first. Then adding details inside/around the figure. In this way, you can work on helping the child figure out how to break down a more complex design into steps so that the spatial organization and sizing of each element also improves.
A low visual motor score is just an indicator that something is going on, affecting a child’s ability to accurately copy drawings and designs. When visual perceptual issues are ruled, out, determining if there is a muscles grading/coordination issue, an ocular motor deficit, or difficulties with motor planning can help you collaborate with your occupational therapist to build a more focused program for your child and choose activities that will have the biggest impact.
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