Why is it that my husband can't seem to match up socks when doing laundry or why does he not have good sense of direction? How is it my 15-month old son can seem to maneuver around toys on the floor without bumping into things or falling? How is it I can perform high-level math problems in my head? The answer to all of these: visual perceptual (v-p) skills. Good V-P skills require that a person's eye is healthy, that the person have good movement of the eyes (oculomotor), and combine these two abilities with cognition. The result is V-P skills.
What does it take for an eye to be healthy? Well, the pupil/lens/retina must respond to light, the person must see clearly and not have fuzzy vision due to cataracts or an astygmatism. The person should be free of any eye disease/ disorder such as glaucoma or macular degeneration. And the person must have visual acuity, meaning they can see far and near clearly. When they can't, they may need corrective lenses (glasses or contact lenses). If the visual acuity problem is severe enough, the person may be considered legally blind, AKA visually impaired. Also, to have healthy eyes means no styes or conjunctivitis (AKA pink eye)...of course, these problems are only temporary.
Eye movements include the person tracking their eyes side-to-side, up-down, diagonal, and circular to following a moving object. As long as a person is over 6 months of age, they should be able to track their eyes while keeping their head still. People, especially children, with muscle weakness of the head or trunk muscles will often move their head to watch a moving object, versus keeping a stable head as the eyes move. This is important that the child get this skill so that he can efficiently learn to read and participate in sports. Another eye movement skill is convergence-divergence, which is the ability for the eyes to look at something up close (cross eyed) and then look at something far away. This is especially necessary for playing sports or sitting in the classroom to copy words from the blackboard onto paper. Other eye movements include saccades which is what eyes do to look at a sequence of pictures in a book or words on a page; the eyes look at multiple things on paper from left-to-right (in English; some languages are the opposite direction). When a child has problems with this skill, reading problems can occur. As a toddler, the child may refuse to look at books or seem inattentive due to his visual problems. If a child's eyes are not aligned such as with "lazy eye", AKA strabismus and amblyopia, then it is hard for him to have good eye tracking or saccades. If you notice a problem with your child's eye alignment after the age of 6 months, please take them to an eye doctor, either an opthalmologist (M.D.) or an optometrist (O.D.).
So, if a child has all of the above-mentioned things, then he has a chance of having decent or better visual-perceptual (V-P) skills. V-P skills are often defined as the brain's ability to interpret what the eyes see. I will not get into every area of V-P, but a couple of common areas are figure-ground and discrimination. Figure-ground skills help a toddler go find his favorite toy within a basket of other toys or helps a grade school child find a particular word within a page full of words. If a child has poor V-P skills, he might get scared in crowds, especially when he thinks he can't find his parents! He might also tend to not venture out on the playground. The slides and swings may seem scary if his V-P skills are delayed. The other area I mentioned, discrimination, lets a toddler learn the difference between a horse and cow when looking in a book or a preschooler to learn the difference between the letter "p" and "d". Also, necessary for V-P skills is cognition and memory. Without those two areas, the child is not likely to get his colors, numbers, animals, and letters correct...he may be late with learning these things. Often, a toddler boy who is a "busy body" may not be detected as having a V-P problem, because people will blow off his behavior as "just being a boy"....but there probably is a reason he doesn't want to sit down and do puzzles or color. It's because it is hard for him! Problems with V-P skills are often addressed with an occupational therapist or developmental optometrist.
Whew...it sure does take a lot of different areas just to learn an alphabet letter! And even more for a person to do a math problem within their head. But, once the child has basic V-P skills, he can also start to grow with his imagination, yet don't be surprised if this equals the beginnings of nightmares... a visual memory is not always a good thing for a toddler! The good news is if you are an adult with only "okay" V-P skills, there is hope. You can come up with strategies to accommodate. My husband adapts to his poor sense of direction by using a GPS! One of my friends doesn't send out an e-mail without having used spell-check first! An adaptation for a toddler or young child would be to limit the clutter in his play area and to read books to him that have simpler pages and less detail.