What is Visual Tracking? | The OT Toolbox

What is Visual Tracking?

Visual problems can surface in many ways. Visual processing challenges present as difficulty in reading, handwriting, sports, navigating a hallway, or many other areas. Sometimes, the issue is a result of visual tracking challenges. Read on to find out exactly what is visual tracking and what an eye tracking problem looks like in kids, including common visual tracking difficulties that present in the classroom or during academic work. We've shared a few visual tracking tips and soon on the site, we'll share a collection of visual tracking activities, too.



Wondering about visual tracking? This article explains what is visual tracking and what visual tracking difficulties look like, along with visual tracking problem areas and visual tracking red flags that can be used by occupational therapists to help kids having trouble with visual processing.





What is Visual Tracking?

You've probably seen it before: The child who struggles with letter reversals..the child who has challenges in navigating obstacles when playing...the child who labors with reading and commonly skips words or lines of words when reading.

These are all signs of a visual tracking problem. There are many more, in fact. The thing is, visual tracking is a part of almost everything we do!

Before we talk more about what visual tracking looks like and other common signs of visual tracking problems, let's discuss what exactly visual tracking is.

Definition of Visual Tracking

Visual tracking is a visual processing skill that occurs when the eyes focus on an object as it moves across the field of vision. Visual tracking occurs with movement of the eyes to follow a moving object and not movement of the head. The eyes have the ability to track an object in the vertical and horizontal, diagonal, and circular planes. There should also be an ability to track across the midline of the eyes and with smooth pursuit of the object. Visual tracking requires several skills in order to efficiently occur. These include oculomotor control abilities, including visual fixation, saccadic eye movement, smooth pursuit eye movements, along with convergence, and visual spatial attention. 

Components of Visual Tracking

These are the visual processing skills that need to occur in conjunction with visual tracking. They are necessary to enable visual tracking in functional tasks.

Visual Fixation- The ability to visually attend to a target or object. Visual fixation occurs while maintaining focus on the object and typically occurs at a variety of distances and locations within the visual field. This is a skill that typically develops at about 4 weeks of age. 

Saccadic Eye Movement- These eye movements are those that occur very rapidly and allow us to smoothly shift vision between two objects without turning or moving the heads. Saccadic eye movement, or visual scanning is necessary for reading a sentence or paragraph as the eyes follow the line of words. This skill also allows us to rapidly shift vision between two objects without overshooting. In copying written work, this skill is very necessary. 

Smooth Pursuit Eye Movement- This ability allows us to steadily follow an object as it is visually tracked. When a smooth pursuit of eye movements occurs, the eyes do not lose track of the object, and occur without jerky movements or excessive head movements. Visual scanning occurs in vertical, horizontal, diagonal, and circular movements.

Convergence- This ability is the simultaneous shift of both eyes together in an adducted position toward an object. The eyes work together to shift inward toward a target object, with single vision occurring with fixation on the object. Convergence is needed to focus on an object with both eyes together.

Visual Spatial Attention- This skill includes awareness and attention in the body and the environment and allows us to attend to all visual fields. When visual spatial inattention occurs, visual neglect can occur. 

Visual tracking red flags can look like many different visual processing needs. Use this list of visual tracking problems and resulting visual needs to address visual tracking in kids.

What does a Visual Tracking Problem Look Like?

So many times, we may see kids who struggle with tasks like reading, writing, coordination, or other areas and miss the visual part of the difficulty. The ability to process visual information plays an important part in everything we do. The areas below are signs that a visual tracking problem may present and visual tracking skills should be assessed.

Visual Tracking Problem Red Flags

  • Incoordination when visual perceptual skills or visual motor skills are required
  • Difficulty with eye-hand or general coordination 
  • Difficulty with sports including those that use a ball or target
  • History of delayed developmental milestones
  • Reverse letters or numbers when writing
  • Misjudges distances or heights related to orientation of the body or body parts in movement or activities
  • Difficulty following an object across their field of vision, especially when the object crosses midline
  • Difficulty reading
  • Difficulty writing
  • Trouble copying work from one place to a paper in single plane or multi-plane locations
  • Difficulty keeping up with peers
  • Difficulty managing body on uneven surfaces, including navigaing and managing bleachers, steps, or walkways
  • Difficulty drawing or coloring
  • Trouble shifting gaze in all planes
  • Skips words or a line of words when reading or re-reads lines of text
  • Must use finger to keep place when reading
  • Poor reading comprehension
  • Short attention span
  • Difficulty comprehending or remembering what is read
  • Confusion with interpreting or following written directions
  • Writing on a slant, up or down hill, spacing letters and words irregularly
  • Confusion with left/right directions
  • Errors when copying from a chalkboard or book to paper
  • Misalignment of horizontal and vertical series' of numbers in math problems
These are just some of the problem areas that may be present when a visual tracking difficulty is present. 

Looking for strategies to address a visual tracking problem? Try some of these: 

 





  



This information on visual tracking skills explains what is visual tracking so occupational therapists, teachers, and parents can better understand common visual processing needs in kids.