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  • Bearfoot OT

Making Sense of Our World Through Our Visual System

kid looking through magnifying glass

Day in and day out, many of us take for granted how HARD our visual system is working. Every time we move, go to type, grab a cup of coffee, read an article, drive our cars, our visual system is constantly feeding information to our brain. For a lot of us, we don’t have to think about visual processing because it just….happens! Our eyes and brain work together to make sense of what is around us, including shapes, color, orientation of objects, and movement. Again, it helps us with daily tasks - reading, writing, & even getting dressed!

But maybe you’ve noticed your kid:

Squinting at the page of their book

Covering their eyes when they’re outside, even if it’s a cloudy day

Gravitating towards toys that spin

Or having a hard time finding something when it looks like it’s in plain sight...

If your kid is demonstrating some of these behaviors or reactions, they might have trouble processing visual information and organizing it for use.

kid looking through pair of binoculars

Why is the Visual System Important?

If a child is having difficulty with their visual system, they may have trouble completing their daily routines and activities and they might get frustrated, distracted and/or confused. That’s because visual information is so important to how we move through the world!

To (over) simplify it, kids can respond to visual input in different ways.

Children can over-respond to visual stimulation... meaning, it might just be too much for them! This could look like squinting, covering their eyes, or getting easily distracted by happenings in the environment.

Children can also under-respond too! This might look like staring off into the distance, losing their place while reading, or having difficulty discriminating objects/letters in front of them.

Children who seek visual input might put objects really close to their face, or they might enjoy shiny/spinning toys the most!

If a child avoids visual stimulation, this might look similar to those who are over-responsive: avoiding bright lights and frequently covering their eyes.


Visual Motor and Visual Perceptual Skills

You may have heard of these terms before. They seem daunting, but have no fear! We are here to help sort out what they mean.

Visual motor skills allow an individual to take in information they receive through their eyes, and coordinate it with body movements. Or put another way, it is putting a visual plan into action, such as stacking blocks, tracing letters, or catching a ball.

Visual perceptual skills allow a child or individual make sense of what they are seeing in their environment. Our eyes are constantly giving us information, which is then sent to our brain to process. We can then form thoughts and create actions.

Did we lose you yet? If yes, no worries. We are going to dive deeper into this topic later. For now, let's talk about some ways to support a child's visual processing preferences.


What Can I Do To Help My Kid?

Here are some ideas for things you can try at home and throughout your daily routine!

little kid lying on beach towel with sunglasses on

For the child that squints, covers their eyes, or gets easily distracted:

  • Change the lighting, such as dimming the lights, using natural light when possible, and reducing overhead light

  • Avoid loud/bright patterns

  • Reduce visual distractions on walls and ceilings

  • Allow child to wear sunglasses or tinted glasses as necessary

visual schedule for morning routine to help with visual processing skills

For the child that stares off into the distance, loses their place, or has difficulty discriminating things in front of them:

  • Reduce the clutter in the environment

  • Provide visual structure, such as labels for where items go

  • Provide a visual aid such as a alphabet strip for discriminating letters and numbers

  • Use visual reminders to prompt organization, such as a checklist for getting ready in the morning

pair of hands holding string lights against blue background

For the child that puts objects really close to their face or really enjoys the shiny/spinning toys:

  • Play with flashlights and other visually stimulating toys

  • Sleep with a nightlight or calming alternative, such as a lava lamp

  • Provide a variety of colors in patterns, toys, etc.

  • Schedule time throughout the day to watch videos or play with stimulating toys. This can be especially helpful when transitioning from one activity to another

For the child that avoids bright lights or covers their eyes:

  • Give advanced warning of bright or unexpected light whenever possible

  • Replace bright, overhead light with dimmable floor/table/desk lamps

  • Avoid toys with flashing or blinking lights

  • Work on coping strategies for when the child becomes overwhelmed, such as deep breathing, yoga poses, listening to music, or swinging

Stay tuned for future blog posts about other sensory systems!

If your kid is having difficulty with sensory processing, you might consider and occupational therapy evaluation. If you want to talk to someone at Bearfoot about whether that's the right step for you, book a free discovery call here!

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