Ambidexterity or Mixed Dominance

What is ambidexterity

Many parents see their child switch hands during tasks, or show refined use of both hands and wonder if their child is ambidextrous. Maybe a child uses their left hand to throw a ball, but bats with their right hand. Maybe they kick a ball with their right foot, but hold a pencil with their left hand. Ambidexterity is a common question among parents of kids who switch hands in activities or don’t use one hand consistently.

In this blog post, you’ll find information on

Ambidextrous Or Mixed Dominance?

Here, we are covering several aspects of ambidexterity. We’ll go over the difference between being ambidextrous and having mixed dominance. We’ll cover what it means when a child uses both hands to write or color. And, we’ll go over some activities to support a dominant hand.

How do you know if your child is ambidextrous or if they are showing signs of mixed dominance? This post will explain a little more about ambidexterity as well as mixed dominance and what it means in motor skills.

Ambidextrous refers to use of both sides of the body in equal ability and refined finger dexterity. This can refer to a bilateral refined movement and skill in the hands, feet, and eyes. Ambidexterity is the ability to use both hands equally well. It means that a person can perform tasks with either hand without any noticeable preference.

Cross dominance refers to a situation where a person’s dominance does not favor one side over the other. In simpler terms, it means that your child hasn’t developed a clear preference for using either their right or left hand for tasks.

Mixed dominance is an other name for cross dominance. It can extend beyond just hand preference and also involve other body parts like the eyes or feet. For example, a child with mixed dominance may have a dominant hand different from their dominant eye or foot. This means that their dominance is spread across different sides of their body.

In other words, cross dominance or mixed dominance is different than ambidextrous in that an individual with cross dominance might switch between dominant sides depending on the task they’re performing. For instance, they may write with their right hand but prefer to eat with their left hand.

Let’s break this down further to explore ambidexterity.

What is ambidexterity? Is my child ambidextrous?

What does Ambidextrous Mean?

The definition of ambidextrous is use of both hands with equal refined precision and motor skill. This means that each side of the body is equally able to write with natural motor planning, fine motor control, strength, and refined motor movements.

According to the definition of ambidexterous, there is equal refinement and precision. You might think this means just the hands and fingers are involved with equal use of both sides. However, that’s not exactly the case.

Those who are truly ambidextrous may have equal use of hands, as well as feet, eyes, and even toungue motor skills.

An ambidextrous child will play naturally with toys using both hands. You might notice equal use of the hands and feet, or switching left to right or right to left during play, sports, school work, and other tasks.

When it comes to someone being ambidextrous and fine motor involvement, this can refer to:

  • Writing
  • Scissor use
  • Clothing fasteners
  • Play
  • Hand strength
  • Brushing teeth and hair
  • Many other every day tasks

Ambidextrous also refers to the feet too.

An ambidextrous person will be able to kick equally strong and with the same amount of force with both feet. They are able to “take off” from a running stance with equal feet placement, whether they start out running on their left foot or their right foot. Gross motor ambidexterity can be seen in:

  • Jumping
  • Running
  • Skipping
  • Hopping
  • Balance
  • Kicking a ball
  • Throwing a ball
  • Catching a ball
  • Among many other every day tasks

Ambidexterity can be observed in the eyes, too. Typically, all of us have one eye that is stronger, or a naturally dominant eye. We can complete a visual screening to identify this, or a visual exam may be in order.

Finally, an ambidextrous individual may show motor overflow movements with the tongue to both sides of the body.

Are you wondering about a child who uses both hands to write or perform tasks? Maybe you know a child who uses both hands equally and with equal skill. Perhaps your child uses one hand for specific tasks and their other hand for other tasks.

Mixed Dominance or Ambidexterous?

Just yesterday on The OT Toolbox, we discussed mixed dominance. In this post, we will cover more about true ambidexterity and what that means.

A child with mixed dominance demonstrates clear, stronger patterns based on the side of the body they are utilizing to complete the task.

For example, a child who is left hand dominant will develop a stronger fine motor pattern then a child who is not left side dominant but compensating for fatigue and is moderately adept at utilizing the left hand as a coping skill.

Is my child ambidextrous

A child who is truly ambidextrous will be equally as skilled at utilizing both sides of the body and it will look and feel natural to the child. Statistically, only 1% of the population is truly ambidextrous—it’s really very rare, and it is more likely that your child is experiencing mixed dominance patterns.

True ambidexterity requires both hands to be used with equal precision and there is no true preference in either the right or left hand for either both fine or gross motor tasks.

Can you make yourself ambidextrous?

This is an interesting question. Many times there is a perceived benefit to being ambidextrous, or switching hand or foot use during a task. Some perceived benefits might be:

  • Switching hands when one is fatigued from use during a task
  • Switching dominant sides during a sport such as baseball or softball to pitch with the other arm, batting from another side, dribbling to the other side when bringing up the ball during basketball, or kicking a ball with the other foot during soccer.
  • Writing equal legibility with both hands

Actually being ambidextrous is different than teaching yourself to become ambidextrous.

To use both sides of the hand as a learned concept takes cognitive attention whereas natural ambidexterity occurs without thought. Because of the neuroplasticity of the brain, humans have the ability to teach themselves to use their non-dominant hand or side to complete tasks. It takes practice, practice, and more practice.

Read here on motor planning where we cover this concept.

Ambidexterity or Mixed Dominance?

Is my child ambidextrous? Isn’t that what mixed dominance is? These are two questions that therapists get asked frequently when evaluating a child for the first time for mixed dominance and other concerns. The answer is no, they are not the same thing.

This is a tricky area. Therapists recognize mixed dominance as a miscommunication or poor integration of the left and right sides of the brain and that’s how it’s explained to parents. However, there is a lot of information out there on this topic that may or may not be relevant to your child and her struggles— keep this in mind when Googling information.

It is more likely, that your child’s brain is utilizing the left and right sides for very specific motor skills such as writing, eating and throwing a ball. This can lead to motor confusion—this is where the poor integration and lack of communication between the left and right sides of the brain comes into play.

When the child is not utilizing one side of the brain more dominantly for motor patterns, confusion and poor motor learning occur leading to delays and deficits in motor skills.

how to tell if your child is ambidextrous

It is unclear why the brain develops this way, but it does happen, and it is okay. In fact, it is easily addressed by an occupational therapist.

Determining if your child is ambidextrous, meaning they have equal proficiency and comfort using both hands, can require some observation. Here are a few signs that may indicate ambidexterity in your child:

  • Equal use of hands
  • Kicks a ball with either foot with equal distance and force
  • Balances on each leg equally
  • Equal tongue movements laterally
  • Proficient functional performance with either side of the body
  • Efficient use of tools with assistance of the other hand: scissor use, pencil use, feeding utensils, and other functional tools

In addition to these abilities, you can take a look at areas of functional performance. These include the underlying skills that impact function.

  • Frequent hand-switching: Observe if your child regularly switches hands during activities such as writing, drawing, eating, or playing sports. Ambidextrous individuals often demonstrate fluidity in using either hand without a clear preference.
  • Equal proficiency: Notice if your child shows similar levels of skill and coordination when using both hands for various tasks. They may exhibit no significant difference in handwriting quality, drawing ability, or manipulating objects with either hand.
  • Ease in learning new skills: Ambidextrous children tend to adapt quickly when asked to perform tasks with either hand. They may show little to no difficulty when switching hands for activities.
  • Mirror-like movements: Pay attention to your child’s movements. Ambidextrous individuals may display symmetrical movements, where actions performed with one hand can be mirrored almost identically by the other hand.
  • Lack of hand dominance: Ambidexterity implies the absence of a clear hand dominance. If your child does not consistently favor one hand over the other for a majority of tasks, it suggests a potential ambidextrous inclination.

Ambidexterous Motor Development

I already touched on this a little, but a child with mixed dominance may switch sides for task completion when experiencing fatigue. Due to this, their motor development and precision is typically delayed.

The most common area that this is noted in is in fine motor development for handwriting. This is because the child is equally, but poorly skilled with both hands, and will switch hands to compensate for fatigue.

Motor delays may also be noticed later on when it comes to the reciprocal movements needed to throw/catch or kick a ball and when skipping. A child with mixed dominance may attempt to catch and throw with the same hand, hold a bat with a backwards grip, or stand on the opposite side of the plate when hitting.

They may also experience a moderate level of confusion, and frustration as they are unsure of how to make the two sides of their body work together leading to overall poor hand/foot-eye coordination skills.Ambidexterity or mixed dominance and what this means for kids who use both hands to complete tasks like handwriting.

For a few fun hand dominance activities, try these ideas to help kids establish a

Ambidextrous hands and eyes

If you have more questions and want to learn more on a dominant eyes and understanding how the eyes and hands work together during activities, you’ll want to check out our Visual Processing Lab.

It’s a 3-day series of emails that covers everything about visual processing, visual motor skills, and eye-hand coordination. We take a closer look at visual skills and break things down, as well as covering the big picture of visual needs and how the hands and eyes work together.  

In the visual processing lab, you will discover how oculomotor skills like smooth pursuits make a big difference in higher level skills like learning and executive function. The best thing about this lab (besides all of the awesome info) is that it has a fun “lab” theme. I might have had too much fun with this one 🙂  

Join us in visual processing Lab! Where you won’t need Bunsen burners or safety goggles!  

Click here to learn more about Visual Processing Lab and to sign up.

ambidextrous eye dominance

Hand preference is something we are often aware of, whether we are right-handed or left-handed. However, many parents may not realize that we also have a preferred or dominant eye. This aspect of eye dominance is often overlooked because we typically use both eyes together for most activities.

So, how can you determine which eye is dominant?

Observing monocular tasks: When using a camera, telescope, microscope, or squinting with one eye. Pay attention to which eye you naturally prefer to use. This eye is typically your dominant eye. In most cases, eye dominance aligns with handedness, meaning that if you are right-handed, you are more likely to be right-eye dominant. However, there are instances where the dominant eye may differ from handedness.

Knowing about eye dominance is important because it can help to gain insights about a child’s visual processing and to identify any variations in eye-hand coordination. This knowledge can be particularly helpful when engaging in activities that require controlled motor planning, speed and timing of movement, and accuracy.

 
Free visual processing email lab to learn about visual skills needed in learning and reading.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Letter Learning with Bottle Caps

Bottle caps with lowercase letters on them sitting on each letter of the uppercase alphabet Text reads bottle cap letters

In this older blog post, we shared how to make your own bottle cap letters for multisensory learning and fine motor play. Creating DIY instructional materials can be both educational and fun. One creative idea is to make bottle cap alphabet letters.

Bottle Cap Letters

By collecting various bottle caps and adding individual letters to them, you can create a unique set of bottle cap letters. This homemade alphabet set can be used for matching big and small letters, helping children learn the alphabet in an engaging way. Kids can enjoy the tactile experience of sorting and matching the big and small bottle cap letters, making it a hands-on learning activity that enhances their letter recognition skills!

 
 
This Letter Learning game was something I made for Big Sister a couple of years ago.  We have played with the letter bottle caps so many times and in a ton of ways.
 

 

How to make bottle cap letters

You’ll need just a few materials:

  • 26 bottle caps (one for each letter of the alphabet)
  • Label paper
  • Marker
  • Cardboard for a play mat
 
The cardboard has upper case letters and the bottle caps are used to match the letters. 
 
It doesn’t matter what size bottle caps you use because you cut the label paper to fit the caps. If you use a lot of milk in your home, or have access to a bunch of bottle caps in the same size, use those.
 
In our case, we had a case or two of Gatorade bottles and used those bottle caps to make our letters.
 
 
  1. I used a sheet of label paper to make the lower case letters.
  2. Trace a bunch of circles in the correct size.
  3. Cut out the circles.
  4. Write the letters.
  5. Stick them to the bottle caps.  Easy!
 
 
 

How to use alphabet bottle caps

Our homemade bottle cap letters are a great DIY instructional material to use in learning and play. 
 
  • We’ve also played with the bottle caps in play dough,
  • Use them to spell names and words.
  • Move the bottle cap alphabet to label objects with it’s starting letter.
  • Work on learning which direction the “p”, “b”, and “d” should go. This is a great hands-on activity to target letter reversals!
  • They are so great to manipulate and play with in a sensory bin filled with corn, too.
  • Or, pair the letter bottle caps with our alphabet exercises to target fine motor and gross motor skills. 
 
How else can we play with these bottle caps??
 
bottle cap letters
 

 

Working on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, or scissor skills? Our Fine Motor Kits cover all of these areas and more.

Check out the seasonal Fine Motor Kits that kids love:

Or, grab one of our themed Fine Motor Kits to target skills with fun themes:

Want access to all of these kits…and more being added each month? Join The OT Toolbox Member’s Club!

Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

DIY Light Box for Tracing

Child tracing letters with a pen on a light table. Text reads DIY light table for tracing

This DIY light box for tracing is an easy light box we put together in minutes. All you need is an under the bed storage container and a string of lights to make a tracing tool that kids will love. There are benefits to tracing and this tool is a fun way to build fine motor skills and visual motor skills as a visual motor skill leading to better handwriting.

Amazon affiliate links are included in this blog post. As an Amazon Influencer, I earn from qualifying purchases.

DIY light box for tracing

A light box is a fun activity, and one you see in preschool classrooms, as it’s intended for hands-on play and exploring the senses. But did you know there are many benefits to using a light box for tracing (and other exploring play)?

How to Make a DIY Light Table for Tracing

This DIY Light Box was something I’ve seen around Pinterest and have wanted to try for a while…Once we had our Christmas lights outside, I thought we would definitely be doing this project after we pulled all of the lights back in.  So, after we brought the Christmas lights in from the outside bushes, this was easy to put together for a cold evening’s play!

You need just two items to make a DIY light table:

(Amazon affiliate links)

  1. Strand of white Christmas lights
  2. Clear, plastic under-the-bed storage bin

Important: The under the bed storage bin needs to be made of clear plastic or have just a slight opaque color to the plastic. Also, the top should be smooth. Many storage bins have textured surface or a white surface. The flat, smooth lid is important for sensory play as well as tracing with paper on the DIY light table. This brand (affiliate link) is a good one to use.

Instructions to make a DIY light box:

  1. Plug in the lights.
  2. Place them into the bin.
  3. Either cut a hole in the base of the bin for the lights to go through or cut a small notch into the lid so the strand of lights can go under the lid.

To make this homemade light box safer and not use plug in lights, you can use battery operated button lights (affiliate link) inside the storage bin. Or, there are many battery operated LED lights available now too. These are a great idea because many of them have a color-changing capability and can be operated from an app on your phone.

IMPORTANT: This homemade light box project should always be done under the supervision of an adult. The lights can get warm inside the bin and they should be unplugged periodically.

This is not a project that should be set up and forgotten about. The OT Toolbox is not responsible for any harm, injury, or situation caused by this activity. It is for educational purposes only. Always use caution and consider the environment and individualized situation, including with this activity. Your use of this idea is your acceptance of this disclaimer.

I put all of the (already bundled-up) strands of Christmas lights …seriously, this does not get much easier…into an under-the-bed storage bin, connected the strands, and plugged in!

 

DIY light box for tracing

A DIY light box made with Christmas lights
 

Once you put the top on, it is perfect for tracing pictures!
 
Tracing on a DIY light box
 
 

Tracing pictures on a light table

 
This is so great for new (or seasoned) hand-writers.  They are working on pencil control, line awareness, hand-eye coordination…and end up with a super cool horse picture they can be proud of!
 
Use printable coloring pages and encourage bilateral coordination to hold the paper down. You can modify the activity by taping the coloring page onto the plastic bin lid. 
 
Tracing a picture on a DIY light table
 
 Big Sister LOOOOVED doing this!  And, I have to say, that she was doing the tracing thing for so long, that we had to turn the lights off because the bin was getting warm. 
 
 
 
trace letters on a light table
 

Other ways to use a DIY Light Table

 
We went around the house looking for cool things to place on top of the bin.  Magnetic letters looked really neat with the light glowing through…Baby Girl had a lot of fun playing with this.
 
You can add many different items onto the DIY light table:
  • Magnetic letters (the light shines through them slightly)
  • Sand for a tracing table- We cover how to use a sand writing tray in another blog post and all the benefits of tracing in a sensory medium. With the lights under the tracing area, this adds another multisensory component to the learning.
  • Shapes (Magnatiles would work well)
  • Feathers
  • Coins
  • Blocks
  • A marble run
 
letters on a light table
 
What a great learning tool…Shapes:
 
 
Letter Identification, spelling words:
 

 

 Color and sensory discrimination:
 
 
 
…All in a new and fun manner!  We had a lot of fun with this, but have since put our Christmas lights back up into the attic.  We will be sure to do this one again next year, once the lights come back out again 🙂
 

 

Please: if you do make one of these light boxes, keep an adult eye on it, as the box did warm up…not to burning warmth, but I would worry about the lights becoming over heated.  This is NOT something that kids should play with unsupervised!

Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Working on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, or scissor skills? Our Fine Motor Kits cover all of these areas and more.

Check out the seasonal Fine Motor Kits that kids love:

Or, grab one of our themed Fine Motor Kits to target skills with fun themes:

Want access to all of these kits…and more being added each month? Join The OT Toolbox Member’s Club!

How to Improve Working Memory

working memory

Working memory is a skill we need for everything we do!  From answering the phone to shopping at the grocery store; working memory is happening at every given moment.  Kids who struggle with executive functioning skills often times have working memory challenges.

working memory activities



working Memory

 Let’s talk about what working memory is and how to improve working memory in kids so they can be successful in those everyday tasks.

Use these strategies to help improve working memory in kids with sensory processing struggles or executive functioning difficulties.

 

What is Working Memory?



Working Memory is the ability to act on past memories and manipulating the information in a new situation.  

Processing short term memories and using it allows us to respond in new situations.  

Working memory allows us to learn. Using working memory skills we can use past information in reading in order to read sight words.  

We can remember math facts, state capitals, mnemonics, phone numbers, addresses, and friends’ names.  We can then use that information to answer questions based on what we know and apply that information in new situations.


Executive functions are heavily dependent on attention.  Read about the attention and executive functioning skill connection and the impact of attention on each of the executive functioning skills that children require and use every day.


In order for working memory to be used in daily tasks, we need a few key items.  Our brain might be considered a memory soup and the key ingredients to working memory are attention, focus, auditory memory and visual-spatial memory.


Read more about visual memory and how to incorporate strategies into play.

Use these strategies to improve working memory skills in kids.

 

Mix all of those ingredients together and you will end up with working memory that can be used to problem solve any given situation.


You can see how children who struggle with the underlying “ingredients” of attention, concentration, auditory processing, and visual processing will be challenged to pull that information into an unrelated event.  The child with sensory processing disorder who is also struggling with social emotional issues might end up in meltdown mode.  The child who can not generalize facts to a new environment might withdrawal.


Read more about attention and how to help kids improve attention with easy strategies for home and school.

 

All of these situations can potentially lead to difficulty with problem solving. Children are developmentally growing every day in relating past information. Yes, we say thank you EVERY time someone holds the door for us, not just that one time last week.  By going through our day, kids learn these things!


The child who is struggling with any of the key ingredients related to working memory, it can be really hard to generalize.

Many parents, teachers, and therapists of kids with executive functioning skills or sensory processing challenges wonder how to improve working memory. These strategies for working memory skills will help.

 

How to Improve Working Memory

Try these working memory strategies to help improve this executive functioning skill:

  1. Take notes
  2. Daily Journal- The Impulse Control Journal is a great tool for keeping track of day to day events
  3. Notebook with times for daily tasks
  4. Practicing the ability to stop and think in practice and in real-life situations. This skill allows one to complete tasks or respond using past experiences.
  5. Writing down information (opposed to typing or tracking on an app)
  6. Setting an alarm for tasks
  7. Second set of school books for home
  8. Dry erase board notes to be used in tasks like cleaning a room
  9. Mnemonics
  10. Guided imagery
  11. Mental rehearsing
  12. Imagine a task in pictures (like a cartoon strip of a day’s event)
  13. Analyzing problem areas
  14. Practice through rehearsal
  15. Routines
  16. Rewards
  17. Reminder messages including verbal, picture, or app-based
  18. To-do lists with physical action (pull off a post-it note when completed)
  19. Task sequencing lists
  20. Play memory games, such as matching games or memory card games.
  21. Use mnemonic devices to help remember information, such as acronyms or visual cues.
  22. Repeat information to yourself multiple times to help solidify it in your memory.
  23. Use visualization techniques to create mental images of information you need to remember.
  24. Break down complex information into smaller chunks to make it more manageable to remember.
  25. Use repetition and rehearsal to help remember important information.
  26. Practice active listening by summarizing and repeating back what someone has said to you.
  27. Write down important information or ideas to help reinforce them in your memory.
  28. Use technology, such as digital reminders or voice memos, to help you remember important information.
  29. Practice mindfulness exercises to improve focus and concentration, which can help with working memory.
  30. Engage in regular aerobic exercise, which has been shown to improve working memory.
  31. Play strategy-based games, such as chess or Sudoku, to help improve working memory skills.
  32. Use self-testing or quizzing techniques to help reinforce information in your memory.
  33. Break tasks down into smaller steps to make them more manageable to remember.
  34. Use different sensory modalities, such as sight and sound, to help reinforce information in your memory.
  35. Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation, to help reduce stress and improve working memory.
  36. Engage in activities that challenge your working memory, such as learning a new language or musical instrument.
  37. Use context cues or associations to help remember information, such as associating a person’s name with a visual cue or location.
  38. Prioritize and focus on the most important information to remember.
  39. Get enough sleep, as lack of sleep can negatively impact working memory skills.
  40. Repeat complex instructions
  41. Break down complex instructions into step-by-step directions with pictures, such as a more detailed version of a visual schedule

Working Memory Activities

In addition to the working memory strategies listed above, there are specific activities you can do to build working memory. Try these ideas:

Digit Recall Activities- Work on repeating numbers in a series. The individual can repeat back numbers in 2 to 3 digit series in both forward and reverse. Then, you can add on additional digits. Continue to grade the digit activities in greater difficulty by adding digits to the thread of numbers or adding letters. To increase the difficulty of this activity even further, ask the individual to write down the series of numbers and letters, and add time in between the given number and when they are asked to recall the series.

Word Sequences- Similar to the number sequences described above, you can use visual pictures of words, or auditory word sequences. Ask the individual to repeat back the series of words.

Ordering Activities- Another great working memory activity is sequential ordering of images or objects by size. You can target this activity to meet the interests of the individual. Think about ordering animals, sports balls, toys, or other items by size. Offer a specific number of items and challenge the individual to remember all of the objects in the series. Increase the difficulty by asking the individual to order objects by largest to smallest and then by smallest to largest.

Instructional Sequencing Activities- This working memory activity focuses on functional tasks and can target goals of the individual. For example, a child working on brushing their teeth can order the steps of the activity from memory. Then, you can ask the child to list the steps in reverse. 

 

More tools for addressing attention needs in kids

There are so many strategies to address attention in kids and activities that can help address attention needs. One tactic that can be a big help is analyzing precursors to behaviors related to attention and addressing underlying needs. 

The Attention and Sensory Workbook can be a way to do just that. 

The Attention and Sensory Workbook is a free printable resource for parents, teachers, and therapists. It is a printable workbook and includes so much information on the connection between attention and sensory needs. 

Here’s what you can find in the Attention and Sensory Workbook: 

  • Includes information on boosting attention through the senses
  • Discusses how sensory and learning are connected
  • Provides movement and sensory motor activity ideas
  • Includes workbook pages for creating movement and sensory strategies to improve attention


little more about the Attention and Sensory Workbook: 


Sensory processing is the ability to register, screen, organize, and interpret information from our senses and the environment. This process allows us to filter out some unnecessary information so that we can attend to what is important. Kids with sensory challenges often time have difficulty with attention as a result.

It’s been found that there is a co-morbidity of 40-60% of ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder. This workbook is an actionable guide to help teachers, therapists, and parents to help kids boost attention and focus in the classroom by mastering sensory processing needs. 

You will find information on the sensory system and how it impacts attention and learning. There are step-by-step strategies for improving focus, and sensory-based tips and tricks that will benefit the whole classroom.

The workbook provides tactics to address attention and sensory processing as a combined strategy and overall function. There are charts for activities, forms for assessment of impact, workbook pages for accommodations, and sensory strategy forms.
 
Grab the Attention and Sensory Workbook below.
 
 

 

Attention and sensory workbook activities for improving attention in kids

 

These strategies to improve working memory are helpful tools for addressing short term memory in tasks.

References:
Gentry, T. (2015, September). Mobile technologies as vocational supports for workers with cognitive-behavioral challenges. Technology Special Interest Section Quarterly, 25(3), 1–4.

FREE Attention & Sensory Workbook

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    Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

    OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY SUPPLIES MATCH IT CARDS

    OT Spot it game for occupational therapy

    Children love Spot It games and OT professionals love to use Spot It in occupational therapy to develop skills! Today’s free resource for OT month is a fun OT Spot It type of game. This occupational therapy supplies match it activity develops visual perceptual skills and uses common OT materials and supplies. If you are working with kids, you’ll want to grab this freebie as a tool to use during OT month, but also all year long!

    Amazon affiliate links are included in this blog post. As an Amazon Influencer, I earn from qualifying purchases.

    OT Spot it game for occupational therapy

    OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY Spot It Game

    This therapy game is part of a larger set that you can find in our OT Materials Bundle. And, incase you missed the OT month freebie that we shared already, be sure to grab this set of OT coloring pages, too. Both are great resources to add to your toolbox.

    If you have ever played the (Amazon affiliate link) Spot It card game, you will love these Occupational Therapy Supplies Match it Cards!  Spot it games come in dozens of different styles to motivate even the most resistant learner. With these occupational therapy tools matching cards, learners can practice visual perceptual skills using a familiar platform. 

    Why are visual perceptual skills important?

    We’ve previously shared a great post explaining the importance of visual perception on learning.  Visual perception is important for reading fluency, decoding words, scanning a page, remembering what has been seen, finding things in a drawer or closet, playing games like puzzles, recalling/recognizing correct spelling, completing math equations, and so much more.

    As a related resource, this free visual perception packet covers many different visual perceptual skills.

    Spot It Game for Visual Perception

    If you’ve seen the Spot It game being used in therapy sessions as a tool for development, you may have wondered how this popular game supports visual perceptual skills.

    What visual perceptual skills are used in the occupational therapy supplies match it game?

    • Visual Attention: The ability to focus on important visual information and filter out unimportant background information.
    • Visual Memory: The ability to recall visual traits of a form or object.
    • Visual Spatial Relationships: Understanding the relationships of objects within the environment.
    • Visual Figure Ground: The ability to locate something in a busy background.
    • Visual Form Constancy: The ability to know that a form or shape is the same, even if it has been made smaller/larger or has been turned around.

    All of these skills are addressed through the use of the Spot It games, and that’s why we wanted to create an OT version to develop skills!

    Use the OT Match IT Game

    Because April is OT month, it is a great time to talk about the role of occupational therapy with other students, or to work with learners on understanding why they get OT. 

    They may not understand why they get to see this awesome person every week.  By educating learners about the role OT plays in their lives, they can begin to explain it to other people.  When we educate other adults about occupational therapy, we are advocating for the profession, as well as teaching them how we can help.

    WHERE WILL YOU TAKE THIS ACTIVITY?

    1. A great place to start would be by ordering the rest of this occupational therapy supplies match it cards HERE. This bundle of occupational therapy activities includes 13 printable products that can be printed off and used with students in therapy sessions to celebrate all of the therapy tools kids use. This packet is great for OT month, and all year long.
    2. An all inclusive lesson plan can easily be made by using all of the occupational therapy month themed activity freebies:
    1. Create a visual perception theme addressing several of the important visual perceptual skills.  The OT Toolbox has some brand new resources for visual perception. 
    2. Color and laminate these cards to build a reusable game set.  Make a special game set for your learners to take home and share with family
    3. Have learners research and learn more about occupational therapy and the supplies or tools we use

    HOW TO DOCUMENT Spot IT Games in Therapy

    If you are using these occupational therapy supplies match it cards as part of your treatment plan, you will need to accurately document your learner’s skill level. 

    • The percentage of correct cards matched
    • How long it takes to do each card
    • Attention to detail, following directions, prompts and reminders needed, level of assistance given
    • Can your learner scan the page to identify the correct items?  Are they recognizing what they are matching or merely matching shapes?
    • How many times do you need to repeat the directions so your learner can follow them?
    • How many reminders does your learner need while doing this activity?
    • First determine what goals and skills you are addressing. Are you looking strictly at visual perception and picture matching?  Or something else entirely such as executive function and behavior?
    • Focus your observations on the skills you are addressing.  It is alright to address one (or ten) skills at once, just be sure to watch for those skills during the activity.  This can take practice to watch everything all at once. Newer clinicians often videotape sessions and go back and review clinical observations they may have missed.
    • Use data to back up your documentation. Avoid or limit phrases such as min assist, fair, good, some, many, etc.  They are vague and do not contain the numbers and data critical to proficient documentation.  Instead use percentages, number of trials, number of errors, time to do a task, number of prompts, minutes of attention.  You get the idea.
    • This type of documentation may feel foreign at first if this is not what you are used to, however insurance and governing agencies are becoming more strict on accurate documentation.

    TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF AS WELL AS OTHERS

    Take time this month not only to advocate for occupational therapy, but to celebrate each other for the fabulous work we do!  Share stories of success, funny moments, learning opportunities, and resounding failures.  Every time I think I have heard or seen it all in my thirty years practicing, a new surprise or hilarious moment comes my way!  Someone should publish a book or page about all of the funny things people say during a therapy session. 

    This profession is rewarding but also very tough.  Burnout is common among health professionals. In fact, caregiver stress and burnout applies to many therapy professionals! If you can’t find a moment of levity, it will break you.  

    While this post is highlighting the occupational therapy match it cards, take time to reflect about what great work you are doing, spread the word about OT, and practice your own self care.

    Free Match IT Game for OTs

    Want to add this resource to your therapy toolbox so you can help kids thrive? Enter your email into the form below to access this printable tool.

    This resource is just one of the many tools available in The OT Toolbox Member’s Club. Each month, members get instant access to downloadable activities, handouts, worksheets, and printable tools to support development. Members can log into their dashboard and access all of our free downloads in one place. Plus, you’ll find exclusive materials and premium level materials.

    Level 1 members gain instant access to all of the downloads available on the site, without enter your email each time PLUS exclusive new resources each month.

    Level 2 members get access to all of our downloads, exclusive new resources each month, PLUS additional, premium content each month: therapy kits, screening tools, games, therapy packets, and much more. AND, level 2 members get ad-free content across the entire OT Toolbox website.

    Join the Member’s Club today!

    Free Occupational Therapy Spot It Game

      We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

      Victoria Wood, OTR/L is a contributor to The OT Toolbox and has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.

      Occupational Therapy Word Search

      occupational therapy word search

      Today we have a free printable occupational therapy word search to add to your therapy toolbox, just in time for occupational therapy month! Looking for a fun way to advocate for occupational therapy, celebrate the profession, and share the fun of OT? This OT word search does the job! Plus, you can print it off once and use the therapy word search in so many ways to support various needs of a whole OT caseload. We’ll explain how to use a word search in therapy AND how to document for collecting data! Read on!

      Amazon affiliate links are included in this blog post. As an Amazon Influencer, I earn from qualifying purchases.

      Occupational therapy word search for OT professionals

      Occupational Therapy Word Search

      We wanted to create an occupational therapy word search because word searches are a versatile and supportive tool for targeting a variety of skill areas. Just some of the areas that are practiced or refined while using this word search includes:

      • Visual perception
      • Visual motor skills
      • Pencil control
      • Hand-eye coordination
      • Memory
      • Attention
      • Fine motor skills
      • Posture/positioning
      • More!

      Being that this is a free word search for therapy, it supports the therapy professional AND the client.

      This free OT word search uses words and phrases that come up in the school-based setting or outpatient pediatric setting. While this therapy word search can be used in so many other therapeutic spaces, these seem to be the settings most of our readers are in.

      We know that occupational therapy works on everything else needed to be independent, and as occupational therapy practitioners, we LOVE to support clients, students, and the family or caregivers of those we work with in developing or refining the skills and activities that matter the most to the individual. OT practitioners are so lucky because we get to support the areas that make our clients who they are as human individuals. What an amazing profession OT is!

      That is a big job! 

      Your “occupation” is everything you do. Your occupation is more than just a job. It could be a student, mother, father, firefighter, accountant, child, caregiver, or a combination of several roles.

      Occupational therapy addresses everything it takes to fill your roles. Because we have such a big job, Occupational Therapists have the entire month of April to celebrate and share what we do! 

      Here are easy occupational therapy month ideas to celebrate the profession of OT.

      Plus, add these other OT month ideas to your therapy toolbox:

      Free OT Word search

      One quick way to advocate for the profession and to celebrate all that we do is to use several tools like the occupational therapy word search free PDF to advocate for our profession.

      Students and young learners see the OT coming in and out of classrooms all day.  They probably have no idea what the OT does. 

      They know students like to see the occupational therapist, and sometimes they get to use cool tools and fidgets.  The occupational therapy word search highlights some of the basic ideas about occupational therapy to get the discussion started. 

      An entire conversation can be started about different types of pencils, pencil grips, handwriting, and the importance of good letter formation. Another conversation may revolve around goals for occupational therapy. Use the occupational therapy word search to build a treatment plan.  

      Occupational Therapy Word Search Treatment Plan:

      • Bring all of the items found in the word search to demonstrate what each item is and how it is used
      • Build a hallway obstacle course to work on sensory processing skills for all students
      • Use this Blank Word Search Template to make your own OT month puzzle
      • Make sensory bins, play dough, putty, or slime to demonstrate the sensory effect these have on the body
      • Create a lesson plan using visual perceptual activities to further build on this OT word search
      • Create a slideshow or video about occupational therapy
      • Make students disabled for a day so they can feel what it is like to need help
      • Laminate all of the occupational therapy month activities to create centers in the classroom
      • Incorporate Disability Awareness month into your OT month planning
      • Hand out fidgets to take home, so students can feel part of this special group that gets to see the occupational therapist. Amazon has several (affiliate link) low cost fidgets for handing out in bulk.

      A word about fidgets and other accommodations, and an interesting experiment. 

      There is a lot of misconception about fidgets and other accommodations used by OTs in the classroom.  I can’t tell you how many fidgets have been taken away from deserving students, because the teacher did not understand what they were for.  They just saw them as toys. 

      Educate the students you are working with, along with all other staff members about the importance of these “tools”.  Fidgets that are used as toys are not serving their purpose.  

      Fidgets in the wrong hands become toys. This is the reason fidget spinners got a bad name.  In the wrong hands they became ninja stars, conversation pieces, or distractions. 

      In the right hands they are amazing tools to be used discreetly under a desk to provide input while the student is trying to focus on the lesson being taught, or sit still during an endless circle time. 

      On to the interesting experiment…

      I was working in a private preschool, seeing two young boys in the same class.  The other students were very interested in what I was doing with their friends each week. I brought in deflated beach balls for each of the students to use as wiggle seats. 

      I simultaneously presented a fine motor task.  Within ten minutes, all of the students except the two boys I had been seeing for OT, were playing with the beach balls.  They were throwing them around the room and waving them in the air.  The two boys?  They were sitting very quietly on the beach balls doing the fine motor task. 

      What started out as a teachable moment about the role of OT in the classroom, turned into a real life demonstration about the use of accommodations.

      This added weight to my theory that the children who needed the accommodations would use them properly (perhaps with a little teaching in the beginning), while the other students would see them as toys, because they did not need anything extra to do their work.  

      Whether you celebrate OT month using activities like this occupational therapy word search, or doing your own social experiment on the nature of young children, spreading the word about what OTs do, and dispelling misconceptions is the goal. 

      Talking about OT might spark some questions about how teachers, caregivers, and other team members can help their students. 

      The OT Toolbox has great tools like this OT Materials Bundle to use in therapy sessions to promote the profession and to celebrate the materials that we use every day in therapy. It’s an advocate tool that builds skills…very much the way we as therapy professionals build skills in the very occupations that we are working to develop!

      Free OT Word Search for OT Advocacy

      Want to add this resource to your therapy toolbox so you can help kids thrive? Enter your email into the form below to access this printable tool.

      This resource is just one of the many tools available in The OT Toolbox Member’s Club. Each month, members get instant access to downloadable activities, handouts, worksheets, and printable tools to support development. Members can log into their dashboard and access all of our free downloads in one place. Plus, you’ll find exclusive materials and premium level materials.

      Level 1 members gain instant access to all of the downloads available on the site, without enter your email each time PLUS exclusive new resources each month.

      Level 2 members get access to all of our downloads, exclusive new resources each month, PLUS additional, premium content each month: therapy kits, screening tools, games, therapy packets, and much more. AND, level 2 members get ad-free content across the entire OT Toolbox website.

      Join the Member’s Club today!

      Free Occupational Therapy Word Search

        We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

        Victoria Wood, OTR/L is a contributor to The OT Toolbox and has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.

        Occupational therapy materials bundle
        OT Materials Bundle– celebrate the profession with what we use in therapy sessions WHILE developing skills!

        Working with kids in occupational therapy sessions? This set of Occupational Therapy Materials Bundle includes 13 activities and resources to promote the profession using therapy supplies and themes.

        Incorporate OT supplies like sensory tools, adapted materials, and therapy supplies to work on functional skills in school-based OT or outpatient clinical therapy settings.

        As a bonus, you’ll also get 8 articles to help occupational therapy practitioners develop as a professional.

        What is Visual Attention?

        Visual attention

        Visual attention is a hot topic when it comes to learning! There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to being visually attentive, however. Attention to visual information is an area of visual processing that is more than just focusing on a task or leaning activity. Attention and awareness of visual information is a skill necessary for noticing details, adjusting to patterns, reading, and so much more of the giant visual processing umbrella.

        Be sure to read our resource on near point copying as visual attention plays a role in copying written work.

        Visual attention

        Visual Attention

        Read on to discover what is visual attention and how this visual skill impacts so much of what we do.

        Visual attention is a visual processing skill that allows us to notice and focus on details. Some aspects of visual attention occur automatically and immediately, and others require integration of other visual processing aspects such as visual perceptual work, focused vision, retained attention, visual mindfulness, and more.

         

        What is visual attention?

        First, it’s important to recognize where visual attention lies in the visual processing umbrella. Visual processing is an aspect that includes the cognitive components, once visual information is received through oculomotor skills and visual acuity.

        Attention of visual information is an area of obtaining visual information and communicating that information with the brain. This collection of information requires several eye mobility skills including: voluntary eye movements, visual fixation, smooth pursuits (or visual tracking) and visual scanning.

        Additionally, visual perceptual skills are included in the visual processing skill. These skills allow us to discriminate details and fill in “missing pieces” such as partially obscured portions of the form and to use the “mind’s eye” to visualize those aspects.

        About Visual Processing…

        For more information on visual processing and the aspects that are a part of visual skills (oculomotor skills, visual perception, visual motor integration, etc.) join us in a free 3-day email series, the Visual Processing Lab, as we discuss each aspect of visual processing with a fun, chemo or bio lab theme!

        As a related component, the visual input from a picture story sequence can support needs of individuals to work on visual attention.

        Visual Attention includes:

        1.) Alertness- Defined as “the quality of being alert”, alertness is that watchful and attentive manner of being ready and responsive to visual information. Visual alertness requires focused vision and keenness to a specific object or area in the visual field.

        2.) Selective Attention- The ability of noticing and processing specific information while disregarding other, less relevant information describes selective attention. This ability to discern visual information is needed for attending visually to information.

        3.) Surrounding Attention- This aspect of attention refers to the surroundings and position in space. An awareness of our body position and the environment happening around us, including distance impacts attention at large.

        4.) Mindful Alertness- The ability to be mindful and aware of visual input with a concentrated effort allows attention needed for participating in a visual task. The continuous alertness in a focused state allows us to attend with intention.

        5.) Shared Attention- This aspect of visual attention allows us to shift focus between visual input. This can involve filtering of unnecessary information.

        What is visual attention? It's a visual processing skill that allows us to read and maintain our place on a line of words. Visual attention allows us to copy written work and notice details. It allows us to recognize faces and letters or words. Visual attention is an important visual skill that many kids struggle with.Learn more here, as well as other information on visual processing.

         

        Visual Attention and Preattentive Features

        If visual memory and attention is depiction of and focusing on specific qualities of a form, then pre-attentive features are basic features of visual information that are automatically noticed by the eyes. These features are easily pulled out of a background or group in a visual display.

        Pre-attentive features include:

        • Color
        • Orientation
        • Curvature
        • Size
        • Motion
        • Depth Cues
        • Vernier
        • Lustre
        • Aspects of Shape

        Visual Attention and Occupational Therapy

        Occupational therapy providers address functional skills in their clients. They help to support every day tasks. Visual attention is one of the underlying components that are required in the visual system and plays a key role in supporting visual processing for performance of everyday activities.

        There are several types of visual problems:

        1. Visual efficiency- This includes eye movements, eye alignment, and eye focusing. These three abilities relate to functional performance. 

        Consider these questions related to the attentional mechanisms surrounding visual efficiency:

        • Can you be a good reader if you lose your place constantly while reading, because of poor eye movements?
        • Can you be a good reader if you are seeing double? Wouldn’t you express visual inattention as a result of double vision?
        • Can you be a good reader and learner if the words are moving in and out of focus and as a result you have headaches and eye strain? Wouldn’t these hardships signal the eyes to close one to shutdown, thus losing visual attention to the stimulus of the reading task?
        • Wouldn’t visual efficiency problems impact your ability to think with reasoning and impact comprehension as a result?

        Looking at these questions, it’s easy to see the attentional effects that visual efficiency has on maintaining attention to visual stimuli. 

        2. Visual Perception- Visual perceptual skills impact academic performance, and visual attention is one of these. These skills work together to allow for functional vision! Visual perception and attention skills enable the cognitive processes.

        • Visual attention
        • Visual memory (which requires attention)
        • Visual discrimination (which visual attention is a key component in order to discriminate between details)
        • Visual closure (in which visual attention is a skill that impacts the mind’s eye in closing a visual image)
        • Spatial attention in written work

        3. Visual motor integration- The components of visual motor integration includes the  integrates the perceptual awareness with the motor output, and attentional skills are a main role. Consider:

        • Automaticity of movement
        • Rhythm and timing
        • Body knowledge and control
        • Laterality and directionality
        • Reaction time, which is related to the visual attention on a stimulus
        • Filtering out irrelevant information

        All of these areas listed above impact everyday life! 

        Visual Attention Tests

        There are screening tools that can look at visual attention. These allow the examiner to determine both a focus of attention as well as efficiency and accuracy components. Attention tests won’t give the full picture when used in isolation, but they should be considered as contributing evidence of visual attention challenges. 

        Some visual attention tests include:

        1. Basic vision screening- Follow a tongue depressor with a sticker at one end with the eyes, or follow the end of a pen with the eyes. The visual attention screening tool can be used to examine how the eye moves to follow a stimulus across various fields of vision. Another screening task is to ask the participant to scan between tow stimuli held at different sides of their field of vision. Both are also a way to see the attentional capacity to follow a moving target. Included in this screening is a look at pursuits (eye tracking) and saccades (eye scanning). You’ll find more information in our blog posts on visual tracking and visual scanning.
        2. Test of Visual Perceptual Skills (TVPS-4)
        3. Beery-Buktenica Developmental Test of Visual Motor Integration, or the Beery VMI
        4. Non-standardized screenings using Parquetry blocks (tangrams), block copying tests, and directionality tasks
        5. Copying materials from a near point and far point

        Automaticity in Vision Attention

        Automaticity refers to the ability to perform routine activities effortlessly and automatically, or without conscious thought. Every motor task that we do throughout the day required conscious through and effort when it was first learned. 

        Once we’ve done a task for long enough, it becomes routine and automatic. We can then do other tasks at the same time. You see this when driving a car, for example. When the task of driving become so routine and ingrained that it is automatic, we can do other things at the same time: think about our day, remember a thought, carry on a conversation, change the radio station, etc.

        Driving is an extremely complex task that moves to a conscious routine over time!

        However, the issue is that we have a sort of blindness when we do other things even during an automatic task. Have you ever driven home from work, only to not recall the drive because you were thinking about other things?

        We as humans also challenge ourselves, often unsafely, by thinking we can do other things while performing an automatic task. Think: texting while driving. The results from this is unfortunate.

        What is at play with automaticity is the visual attention skill that moves from a conscious effort to an unconscious effort.

        Similarly, this ability is present when we read or write. 

        A proficient reader is able to automatically recognize, recall, and reproduce, or write, letters and numbers without conscious effort to identify each letter and number form. 

        This attention to detail has become ingrained and automatic. 

        When we see challenges with reading proficiency, comprehension, speed, and overall the student who is struggling academically, the automaticity may be missing. The visual scene is incomplete without the automatic integration of visual attention.

        Visual Attention Activities

        Visual challenges with spatial skills, omitting materials in reading or writing, and other functional considerations can mean working on visual attention can help. Attention tasks like the ones below can support this skill.

        The goal for using these visual attention activities is to have comfortable, efficient, and accurate vision at various distances through the function of play and learning. We want to see eye alignment, eye focusing, and eye movements, all operating at an automatic and reflexive level, or without conscious effort.

        • Tangram activities
        • Laterality or directionality activities
        • Letter tracking in word searches
        • Brock string 
        • Bead stringing sequences
        • Directional jumps
        • Mazes
        • Code deciphering activities
        • Dots game
        • Sorting items (beads, buttons, etc.)
        • Hidden pictures activities
        • I Spy
        • What’s missing activities
        • Spot it game
        • Sequencing activities

        For the individual with cognitive impairments such as following a stroke or other impairment in which visual inattention is present, some strategies can include:

        • Eye patching
        • Dynamic stimuli (flashing lights)
        • Activities to activate orientation and overall attention
        • Verbal cueing
        • Auditory cuing (bell, finger tapping, snapping, etc.)
        • Tactile cuing to engage the participant to look at the unattended side
        • Mirror therapy

        Using an adaptive approach to visual inattention is important to foster functional participation, independence, and safety. These strategies can include:

        • Compensation strategies
        • Incorporate the patient’s awareness 
        • Place necessary items within the patient’s field of vision

        How to work on Visual Attention

        For more information and specific activities that can address visual attententiveness in fun and meaningful ways, grab the Visual Processing Bundle. In it, you will find 17 digital products, e-books, workbooks, and guides to addressing various aspects of visual processing. The bundle is valued at over $97 dollars for these products, and includes over 235 pages of tools, activities, resources, information, and strategies to address visual processing needs.


        For one week, the visual processing bundle is on sale at $29.99. Grab the Visual Processing Bundle HERE.

         

        References:
        Wolfe J. Visual attention. In: De Valois KK, editor. Seeing. 2nd ed. San Diego, CA:
        Academic Press; 2000. p. 335-386.

        Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

        Visual Closure

        Visual Closure

        It’s possible that you’ve heard the term visual closure before as this is a common visual skill that impacts learning, reading, and math skills. But did you know that visual processing skills also impact fine motor skills. Occupational 

        therapists assess and treat visual skills as one of the underlying contributors to functional deficits. Visual closure is just one of those visual perceptual skills that impact everyday tasks. 

        In this post will we discuss how visual closure is utilized in daily life, red flags for dysfunction, and some great activities to develop this skill.

        Visual Closure

        What is Visual Closure

        Visual closure refers to the brain’s ability to complete a picture or visual representation using incomplete information. This is a visual perceptual skill and a component of visual processing that enables us to visually fill in the blank with missing information. 

        This visual perceptual skill allows us to see part of an object and visualize in our “mind’s eye” to determine the whole object. When we see part of an item, we use visual closure to know what the whole item is. This skill requires the cognitive process of problem solving to identify items.

        This visual perceptual skill is the one used to locate and recognize items in a hidden picture puzzle. In written work, we use visual closure to recognize parts of words and letters when reading and copying work.

        Visual Closure is defined as the ability of the eyes to visualize a complete image or object when only a portion is seen. An individual can see just part of a letter or number when reading and recognize how to write that figure. We can read a word or sentence without focusing on each letter and how it is made.  

        Visual Closure is an essential skill for many tasks. It is a skill that enables us to recognize a friend when it their face is partially covered by a scarf. It allows us to identify a road sign that is hidden by tree branches. It allows us to read, write, spell, complete math, and manage many other daily tasks.

        Visual Closure enables us to look at an incomplete form and abstractly fill in the missing details in order to identify the form or shape. The skill allows us to comprehend portions of visual information without actively assessing each detail in isolation. This skill is one that utilizes abstract problem-solving skills.

        Visual closure is a skill we use all day long. 

        From learning, to driving, to getting dressed, we use this aspect of visual perception in discerning between both familiar items and unfamiliar objects in every environment.

        Visual closure takes into consideration spatial relationships, orientation in space, and knowledge about similar objects. In this way, both visual memory and working memory plays a role in recognizing a familiar item previously filed away in the brain’s knowledge. 

        Perceptual skills like vision closure allow us to function in day to day tasks, use safety awareness, and complete everyday activities through visual motor integration.

        Visual perception is just one of many functions of the body that OT practitioners can address in therapy to improve quality of life. 

        Examples of Visual Closure

        We are able to visually close an incomplete image when we see part of an item partially obscured by other items in the environment.

        Some examples of visual closure include:

        • Recognizing that a complete object is in front of us even when part of it is covered up
        • Identifying a stop sign even when it’s partially obscured by a tree branch
        • Knowing that a complete fork is in the tray of utensils when we see only a portion of the fork
        • Realizing the approximate size of objects when part of it is blocked from our vision
        • Using the ability to make inferences about an object’s size even when portions are blocked from our line of sight
        • Realizing the complete whole of an object is still there even when obscured, for example: knowing a window continues behind a curtain.
        • Reading a word with fluency and effiencey, as well as reading comprehension (more on all of these areas below)
        • Needed skill for spelling and sight word recognition
        • Required to help figure out a shape or form that is partially hidden
        • Needed to recognize an object when only a portion is visible
        • Necessary skill for identifying spelling mistakes or incorrect information in written work
        • Required to visually locate partially hidden objects in a busy background
        • Required skill for reading words or recognizing words that are partially visible

        Visual perception involves a complex set of skills, including one that we will highlight here: visual closure. This important cognitive ability involves being able to understand and interpret incomplete or abstract visual information. In other words, it’s the ability to see an object or figure in your mind’s eye when only a part of it is actually visible. Pretty cool, right?

        WHY IS Vision CLOSURE USEFUL?

        Visual closure is a type of visual perception skill that allows you to understand the whole shape of an object, even if part of it is hidden. 

        For example, we use this skill to recognize a letter of the alphabet when part of it is erased. Many students would recognize a visual closure worksheet without knowing it – they often look like one half of a familiar shape, and the student must draw the remaining half to create the whole the shape. 

        They may also use this skill during a color-by-number worksheet, where they can recognize an image appear before it is even complete! 

        This is an important skill as it increases our ability to understand the world and adapt to changes. Having strong vision skills also increases your overall visual cognitive performance, leading higher reading and writing abilities. It also sets you up for success for finding lost keys or quickly locating a spice in the cabinet. 

        Visual Closure and Reading

        When it comes to vision, there is a lot that goes into reading and writing. Understanding the visual differences between letters, visually connecting the form of a letter to a sound, and stringing single letters into words (and then sentences) involves coordination of visual processing and multiple skill areas. When a child picks up a pencil to write the daily homework assignments into a tracker or completes a math page, the visual processing system is going into overdrive with scanning, visual tracking, visual motor integration, and visual perceptual skill work.

        In the classroom, we often times run into many students who struggle with reading. Parents may notice a difficulty with reading during homework or other reading tasks. When a child struggles with keeping their place when reading a line of text, has difficulty recognizing words they should know, struggles with reading fluency or reading comprehension, a visual processing issue may be at the center of the struggle.

        One necessary foundation skill needed for reading fluency is visual closure. While it may not seem like the most predictable culprit of the visual perceptual skills that impact reading, vision closure certainly is at play.

        Visual closure is a skill used when reading. These visual skills are used to visually complete the word in the mind’s eye without reading each letter. This is similar to word prediction technology. The mind is able to predict the word based on letters, and context. This enable reading fluency as well as reading comprehension.

        Visual closure is one skill that allows us to recognize words without focusing on each individual letter within a word. It allows us to glance at a sight word and read the word quickly. It enables us to comprehend a reading passage with fluency and efficiency as we visualize and discern words. It allows us to read and discern words that have similar beginnings or endings.

        When a child looks at words and sentences, they typically are able to fill in missing parts of information. They can predict what is coming when reading sentences, copy words if they don’t see the whole word, solve puzzles, and fill in worksheets. When visual closure and predicting information or self-correcting missing information is difficult, kids don’t recognize errors in reading, writing, and math.

        Similarly, visual closure enables us to identify a word without perceiving each specific part of the letters which make up a word. It is easy to see how a child who struggles with this visual perceptual skill can labor at reading!

        VISUAL CLOSURE RED FLAGS

        How do I know if there is an issue with my visual closure abilities? There are signs that can indicate visual closure problems in children.

        These are common red flags associated with poor visual closure in kids:

        Children with difficulties in visual closure may have trouble completing mazes, puzzles, or worksheets.  They might have difficulty identifying items that are partially obscured by other items, such as finding a serving spoon or a matching sock hidden in a draw full of items.  They might have difficulty with spelling or math tasks or concepts.

        • Difficulty recognizing letters or reading in certain fonts
        • Often poorly forms letters while writing 
        • Not being able to recognize a word that is partially hidden
        • Difficulty completing words with missing letters
        • Requires extra time to read because they must sound out each letter in a word rather than seeing the whole word
        • Unable to find an object when it is partially covered (ex: milk in the fridge or a shirt in a drawer)
        • May find puzzles too challenging 
        • Figuring out how to put together toys with multiple parts
        • Difficulty interpreting visual information, such as maps or diagrams

        Please note that this is list not exhaustive, nor does it by any means diagnose someone with visual or cognitive deficits. It is here it give you an idea of what it may look like or feel like to have impaired visual closure understanding.  

        Since we know that various visual perception skills match these red flags, we have the perfect resource for you: this Visual Closure Workbook! This workbook gives an in-depth look at a very specific aspect of visual perception, it gives ample ways to identify it, and provides various levels of interventions with fun themes to go along. 

        Visual Closure ACTIVITIES & GAMES

        The good news is that there are tons of fun ways to develop visual closure skills! Below you can find activities, games, books, and activities you can do with objects at home to build visual skills. 

        Books to Develop Visual Closure

        Here are a few easy activities that you can do at home to help:

        Puzzles: Jigsaw Puzzles are a great way to work on this skill, as they require children to use their visual and spatial awareness skills to figure out how the pieces fit together. Start with simple puzzles and gradually increase the difficulty as your child improves.

        Picture Matching: Cut out a set of pictures and have your child match the incomplete pictures to the complete ones. For example, you can cut out a picture of a house, leaving only the roof and part of the walls visible. Your child’s job is to find the matching picture of the whole house.

        Printable Worksheets: Visual Closure worksheets can be a tool to support development of this visual processing skill. We love creating resources that build this area of development in various themes. We have fun downloads here on the website that targets visual closure.

        Hidden Objects: Provide your child with a few objects and something like a blanket to cover parts of them. Have them use their visual closure skills to figure out what’s missing or covered up.

        Drawing: Encourage your child to draw from memory. For example, you can show them a picture for a few seconds, then have them close their eyes and draw what they remember. This activity helps to develop their visual closure skills, as well as their memory and creativity.

        Children with strong visual closure skills are better able to complete puzzles, read and write, and interpret their surroundings. On the other hand, children who struggle with vision closure may have difficulty with these tasks and may require extra support and intervention.

        Dot to Dot Activities- Completing a connect the dot activity is a great way to develop visual closure skills by working on seeing the bigger picture. Best of all, these visual perception activities support development of other underlying areas, too: visual figure ground, visual scanning, form constancy, and the ability to complete a partial picture. 

        If you notice your child struggling with this skill, consider seeking out the help of an occupational therapist. With the right support and activities, your child can develop their visual closure skills and improve their overall functioning.

        Sydney Thorson, OTR/L, is a new occupational therapist working in school-based therapy. Her
        background is in Human Development and Family Studies, and she is passionate about
        providing individualized and meaningful treatment for each child and their family. Sydney is also
        a children’s author and illustrator and is always working on new and exciting projects.

        The Visual Closure Workbook is a 65 page digital file designed to impact visual perceptual skills for reading comprehension and efficiency, and the ability to visualize a complete image or feature when given incomplete or partial information. With functional visual closure skills, we are able to determine

        This visual perceptual skill resource includes:

        • Information on visual processing and visual closure
        • Tips and tools to address visual closure needs
        • A thorough explanation of visual closure and what problems in this area look like in everyday tasks
        • Reproducible worksheets and activity lists
        • Activities to grade visual perceptual skills in hands-on activities
        • 3 levels of worksheet pages in a variety of themes

        Valentines Day I Spy

        Valentines Day I Spy

        This Valentines Day I Spy is a fun activity for developing skills in visual perception, eye-hand coordination, and more. Add it to your collection of Valentine’s Day occupational therapy activities for a fun way to build skills! 

        Can you believe it is Valentine’s day already?  Although this is considered a “greeting card” holiday made up for the benefit of selling products, children LOVE sending and receiving Valentines.  

        Just in time for the big day, the OT Toolbox is coming to your inbox with this free Valentine I Spy worksheet!

        Valentines Day I Spy printable

        Valentine I Spy Free Download

        What is better than Valentine’s day?  Something free!  Input your email address below and your Valentine I Spy PDF will be zoomed to your inbox.  Better yet, become a member of the OT Toolbox and save the hassle of entering your email address each time.  Membership has its perks.  Extra resources not in the “free” section, member only downloadables, and themed sections with similar resources all in one place.

        Fun Facts about Valentine’s day

        • Americans spent over 27 billion dollars on Valentines gifts  in 2020
        • Americans send 145 million Valentines cards each year
        • One idea states in the middle ages Valentine’s day was created because it was  the start of mating season
        • Legend says Valentine was killed for attempting to free prisoners, sending letters to the recipient signed, “from your Valentine”
        • Over 27 million Americans sent Valentines to their dogs in 2020
        • Nearly six million couples get engaged on Valentine’s day

        How to use the Valentine I Spy worksheet

        As always, the Valentines Day I Spy activity is designed to e used in a variety of ways to meet the needs of different levels of learners.

        • Laminate the page for reusability, or use a simple page protector.  This saves on resources, and many learners love to write with markers! Note: while some learners love to use wipe off sheets, others become upset they can not take their work with them.  For those who want to save their work, consider taking a screenshot of it.
        • Create a notebook of resources stored in page protectors for use each year
        • Slide the printable into a page protector sleeve and use dry erase markers to color in or circle the hidden objects
        • Make this part of a larger lesson plan including gross motor, sensory, social, executive function, or other fine motor skills
        • Talk about Valentine’s day, talk about the pictures in the worksheet, discuss traditions and expectations for the holiday
        • Enlarge the font for beginning learners who need bigger space to write, or have below average visual perceptual skills
        • Project this page onto a smart board for students to come to the board
        • More or less prompting may be needed to grade the activity to make it easier or harder
        • Block of certain areas of the Valentine’s I Spy page to help learners focus on one part at a time
        • Use different tools to mark the page.  Bingo markers, Bingo chips, markers, crayons, pompoms, play dough, or a finger if you want to remove the fine motor element of the task
        • Learners can explore other games they could make using this activity 
        • Write a report about Valentine’s day, types of Valentines, the history of the holiday, different celebrations, or activities
        • Executive function – hand the papers out with very limited instruction. Record how well your learners can follow instructions without repeat guidance
        • Have students write on a slant board, lying prone on the floor with the page in front to build shoulder stability, or supine with the page taped under the table

        Visual Perception and the Valentine’s Day I Spy Printable

        I Spy printables are great for building visual perceptual skills.

        Visual perception refers to the brain’s ability to make sense of what the eyes see.  This is different from visual acuity which is how clearly a person sees.  A person can have 20/20 visual acuity and poor visual perceptual skills.  

        Visual perception is important for everyday activities like puzzles, math, finding the right cereal on the shelf, dressing, reading, cutting, and about a million other necessary skills.  Visual perception is made up of seven different areas.  The ones targeted in the Valentine’s Day I spy activity are:

        • Visual Attention: The ability to focus on important visual information and filter out unimportant background information.
        • Visual Discrimination Skills: The ability to determine differences or similarities in objects based on size, color, shape, etc.
        • Visual Memory: The ability to recall visual traits of a form or object.
        • Visual Figure Ground: The ability to locate something in a busy background.
        • Visual Form Constancy: The ability to know that a form or shape is the same, even if it has been made smaller/larger or has been turned around.

        How to Use the Valentine’s day I Spy Worksheet

        This, like any activity can be a stand alone task.  It can also be grouped into a specific theme.  

        • Visual perception – group several different visual perceptual exercises and games together to focus on this skill. 
        • Valentine’s day theme – The OT Toolbox has a huge range of activities centered around Valentine’s day
        • Sensory tools – make Valentines sensory binssensory bottle, finger paint crafts, or obstacle courses
        • Valentine’s Fine Motor Kit – address several different fine motor skills in one fun print and go deal
        • Use this Valentine’s Day activity in a classroom party, as a fun activity for the classroom , or in therapy sessions leading up to Valentine’s Day. 
        • Use this activity for different ages: Preschoolers can color the items they find. Middle school kids and high school kids can write about the objects hidden in the puzzle.
        • Work on early math skills with younger children. Add up the items hidden in the free printable game. Can they add up certain items to create Valentine math problems using picture symbols? Create Find the of correct number of items for each object.

        • Build coloring skills. Assign a color for each hidden object. Then use the activity as a color worksheet with hidden pictures. Children can place a colored bead or other marker on the graphics that match.
        • Use the activity as printable games to build skills. Working with a small group, users can race to find the hidden objects.
        • Challenge fine motor skills by asking the child to place heart candy on certain objects hidden in the I spy activity.
        • Add the activity to our other Valentine’s Day printables here on the site.
        • Encourage creativity: Ask users to color in all of the similar items with a certain color, or focus on finger isolation to place a fingerprint on all of the matching objects.
        • Build scissor skills, precision dexterity, and eye-hand coordination. Print off one copy and cut out the images at the bottom of the page. Then, present the user with a copy of their own. They can place the matching objects on the items they find in the valentine’s day printable.

        This is a great activity for so many skill areas!

        My personal favorite is the fun and interesting facts and legends surrounding this holiday.  Who knew it started hundreds of years ago?  Whether you are in it for the flowers and chocolate, hoping to get engaged, or spending some time with loved ones, use this holiday as a reason to create fun and engaging games and activities to help your learners.

        Free Valentine’s Day I Spy

        Want to add this printable worksheet to your themed items for Valentine’s Day fun? Enter your email address into the form below. Or, if you are a Member’s Club member, you can find this PDF file inside the membership under Valentine’s Day Therapy Theme (Level 2 members) or on the freebie dashboard under Vision Tools (Level 1 and Level 2 members).

        FREE Valentine Day I Spy

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          Victoria Wood, OTR/L is a contributor to The OT Toolbox and has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.