Inside: Learn what Visual Motor Skills are, how they differ from Visual Motor Integration and how to improve both; especially if your child has an IEP or disability.

Are you good at sports? Is your child? Have you been told that you just “aren’t good at sports?” I have. In fact, I was in adaptive PE as a kid. I hated sports. Turns out, I really needed some help with my visual motor skills and visual motor integration.

Isn’t it amazing how many things our bodies just do naturally without us having to consciously make it do? What is even more amazing is that sometimes these tasks that our bodies do have a few complicated steps in it for it to be done correctly. Until….they don’t.

And, for the kid who lacks VMI skills, in a society that worships sports, life can be rough. Really rough. Ask me how I know. Some of our bodies don’t “just do naturally” what others experience.

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For our purposes here, I am referring to the task of visual processing which we will later tie in with motor activities for visual-motor coordination. We have to take in the information, process it, then use this information to complete a motor activity.

child playing baseball
It’s often more than just “not good at sports.” The child may need VMI assistance.

This all happens organically while we just go about our daily business of living!

What are Visual Motor Skills?

Visual motor skills, also known as visual-motor integration skills or eye-hand coordination, refer to the ability to coordinate visual information with motor movements. They involve the integration of visual perception and motor control, enabling individuals to use their eyes and hands together effectively and accurately.

Visual motor skills involve the following abilities:

  1. Visual Perception: This refers to the interpretation and understanding of visual information received through the eyes. It involves recognizing shapes, colors, sizes, spatial relationships, and patterns.
  2. Eye Tracking: It involves the ability to visually track moving objects smoothly and accurately with the eyes. This skill is crucial for tasks like reading, following a moving object, or participating in sports.
  3. Eye-Hand Coordination: It is the ability to coordinate the movements of the hands and fingers with the visual information obtained through the eyes. It is essential for tasks that require precise manipulation, such as writing, drawing, catching a ball, or using tools.
  4. Visual Motor Integration: This refers to the efficient coordination between visual perception and motor control. It involves the ability to interpret visual information and accurately perform related motor actions. For example, copying shapes or letters, completing puzzles, or threading a needle.
  5. Visual Spatial Skills: These skills involve understanding and interpreting the spatial relationships between objects and their positions in the environment. It includes tasks such as judging distances, spatial orientation, and the ability to mentally rotate or manipulate objects.
  6. Visual Memory: This refers to the ability to remember and recall visual information. It involves storing and retrieving visual details, such as remembering a sequence of letters or numbers, visual patterns, or instructions.

Developing and refining visual motor skills is crucial for various everyday activities and academic tasks. These skills are particularly important in early childhood development and continue to play a role throughout a person’s life.

Activities such as drawing, writing, playing sports, puzzles, and hand-eye coordination games can help improve and enhance visual motor skills.

mom and son doing a puzzle
Working on puzzles can help with visual motor skills.

Let’s give these important components their official titles and associated tasks: 

Examples of Visual Motor Skills (chart)

VISUAL SKILLS: this includes visual acuity, which means our actual eyesight; and also oculomotor skills which are for reading and eye hand coordination.

There are 17 skills needed here for optimal visual acuity. 

EYE MOVEMENT CONTROL Move both eyesfocus
BINOCULAR COORDINATIONTwo eyes working together
SACCADESBoth eyes moving quickly at the same time(reading words, sentences)
PURSUITSBoth eyes moving between different focus points(taking notes and looking back at teacher)
CONVERGENCEEyes turning inwards to read, look at computer screen
ACCOMMODATION FLEXIBILITYChanging focus from near to far or vice versa
ACCOMMODATION ENDURANCEClose vision for extended time
VISUAL MEMORYRemembering words or images
VISUAL THINKINGAnalyze what was seen
CENTRAL VISUAL ACUITY20/20 being “perfect” vision
PERIPHERAL VISION (SIDE VISION)See something outside main focus without turning to actually look at it
DEPTH PERCEPTIONUnderstanding how close or far away an object is
COLOR PERCEPTIONColor differentiation
GROSS VISUAL MOTORUsing vision to guide as we we move and not collide with objects in our environment
FINE VISUAL MOTORReading, writing, 
VISUAL PERCEPTIONAwareness of everything around you within your vision
VISUAL INTEGRATIONAdding what you see to your other senses

With this understanding of visual processing we now incorporate this manually into our daily lives with visual motor integration; visual motor skills.

Occupational Therapy International has an article entitled, “Systematic Review of Visual Motor Integration in Children with Developmental Disabilities” which offers us the definition for visual motor integration (VMI), “VMI is the ability to perceive visual input, process the information, and coordinate a motor response .

VMI skills encompass eye-hand coordination, praxis, visual perceptual skills, gross motor coordination, and fine motor coordination . The ability to control hand movements through vision is necessary for a multitude of academic and nonacademic endeavors.”

Quite simply put, we need to be able to multitask on somewhat of an innate level.

We need to be able to do these things without actively telling our brains to see and then do. We need to be able to copy from a board or another sheet of paper, catch a ball, type at a keyboard, later on push pedals and watch the road and be aware of our surroundings to drive a car, etc.

Those activities mean using what we see and what motor activities are needed to complete the task we are looking at.  

Some students can be at a higher risk for difficulties with VMI such as individuals with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, or brachial plexus injury in addition to other less common diagnoses. Visual motor integration is important in early childhood as it sets the student up for future success in education.

What is Visual Motor Integration?

Visual motor integration (VMI) is the ability to coordinate visual perception and motor control to complete tasks that require the integration of visual and motor skills. It involves the efficient and accurate use of visual information to guide and control fine motor movements.

VMI is essential for activities such as writing, drawing, cutting, threading, and other tasks that involve precise hand-eye coordination.

In visual motor integration, the individual must process visual information received through the eyes and use it to guide and control their motor actions. This includes tasks such as copying shapes or letters, tracing lines, completing puzzles, or drawing complex figures.

The individual must accurately perceive the visual stimuli, interpret it, and then translate it into appropriate motor responses.

Successful visual motor integration relies on several underlying skills, including:

  1. Visual Perception: The ability to interpret and understand visual information, such as recognizing shapes, sizes, colors, spatial relationships, and patterns.
  2. Eye-Hand Coordination: The ability to synchronize and coordinate the movements of the hands and fingers with visual information obtained through the eyes. This involves precise control of motor actions based on visual input.
  3. Visual Spatial Skills: The understanding and interpretation of spatial relationships between objects and their positions in the environment. This includes tasks such as judging distances, spatial orientation, and mental rotation of objects.
  4. Visual Memory: The ability to remember and recall visual information accurately. This includes storing and retrieving visual details, such as remembering the sequence of letters or numbers, visual patterns, or instructions.
  5. Fine Motor Skills: The ability to control and manipulate small muscles, particularly those of the hands and fingers, to perform precise movements. Fine motor skills are crucial for tasks such as writing, drawing, cutting, and manipulating small objects.

Visual motor integration skills are developed and refined through practice and experience. Engaging in activities that involve visual-motor coordination, such as drawing, coloring, playing with construction toys, and engaging in sports, can help improve and enhance VMI abilities.

Occupational therapists and educators often work with individuals, especially children, to develop and strengthen their visual motor integration skills for optimal performance in daily tasks and academic activities.

VMI is important for handwriting, keyboarding, and fun things like catching a ball. Here are more:

VISUAL MOTOR COORDINATION ACTIVITIES

  1.  PLAY BALL! Catching, throwing, kicking, hitting
  2. Puzzles, mazes, coloring books(coloring in the lines)
  3. Blocks, Legos ~also creating something from a drawing
  4. Writing, printing, cursive, texting, keyboarding
  5. Sewing cards, sewing on cloth

As you can see doing any of those exercises, and there are tons more~ we need to be seeing, remembering and executing! It is a few moving parts(brains, eyes, and hands) working together. As mentioned earlier, many of these activities are done in the primary years to prepare for learning. 

Visual Motor Evaluations

Here are some symptoms that a child is struggling with visual motor skills and visual motor integration.

  • Difficulty with spatial awareness
  • Difficulty lining up numbers
  • Difficulty with handwriting
  • Difficulty with coloring in the lines
  • Difficulty writing in the lines
  • Poor grip on writing or drawing utensil, scissors, blocks, puzzles
  • Coordination, clumsiness, sports activities

This list may seem daunting and while early intervention is best, remediation at any point can bring improvement in VMI skills. Studies strongly suggest that Occupational Therapy increases visual motor skills in children with disabilities and developmental delays.

First, a student can be assessed with the Beery-Buktenica Developmental Test of Visual Motor Integration. This assessment follows developmentally sequenced skills, or age based norms. Armed with this information the Occupational Therapist will devise a plan with goals using evidence based practices to target those goals.

It is so important that these results be shared with the child’s team both professionally and privately. VMI skills are so integral to everything else the child will need to learn both academically and socially.

Parents and pediatricians and schools can work together to spot these inconsistencies and begin a good plan. There are many fun activities to find to increase these skills for future success.

Visual Motor IEP Goals

Here are ten example Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals that focus on improving visual motor skills:

  1. Goal: The student will improve eye-hand coordination by accurately completing simple puzzles or mazes with minimal errors.
  2. Goal: The student will enhance visual perception skills by correctly identifying and sorting objects based on their shape, color, or size.
  3. Goal: The student will improve visual tracking abilities by smoothly tracking a moving object with their eyes without losing focus for a specified duration.
  4. Goal: The student will develop fine motor control by using proper pencil grip and producing legible letters or numbers during writing tasks.
  5. Goal: The student will enhance visual spatial skills by accurately copying geometric shapes or patterns within given guidelines.
  6. Goal: The student will improve visual memory skills by accurately recalling and reproducing a sequence of visual patterns or symbols.
  7. Goal: The student will enhance visual motor integration by accurately tracing lines, curves, or shapes within given templates.
  8. Goal: The student will improve hand-eye coordination by accurately catching or throwing a ball at a specified distance or target.
  9. Goal: The student will enhance fine motor skills by accurately cutting along straight lines, curves, or complex shapes with scissors.
  10. Goal: The student will improve visual motor skills for self-care tasks by independently buttoning, zipping, or tying shoelaces on clothing items.

Remember, IEP goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART). These goals can be customized and further refined based on the individual needs and abilities of the student.

It is important to involve the student’s parents, teachers, and other professionals in the IEP development process to ensure the goals are appropriate and beneficial for the student’s progress.

Thank you, Linda, for helping with this article.

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Linda Gilmartin is a high school special education teacher, an adjunct college professor for future teachers, and the Administrator of the social media group Transitioning Teens/Adults with Special Needs Life After High School, and Author of Transitioning Special Needs Teenagers and Adults

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