VIsual Perception: Figure-Ground

Visual perception child with glasses

We are completing our Visual Perception blog series that focuses on the seven specific skills comprising visual perception. In the previous post, we learned more about Visual-Sequential Memory and how to help your clients, students, or children improve it. Now, we take a look at the LAST of the seven main visual skills: Visual Figure-Ground!

Knowing which specific skill area(s) your child struggles with will aid in choosing appropriate and effective treatment activities. In addition to occupational therapists, there are also specialized optometrists called developmental optometrists (also called behavioral optometrists) who evaluate and treat all of the skills above. *If you have concerns about your child’s vision, we always suggest that you first consult with your child’s optometrist or ophthalmologist.*

How many times have you experienced the following situation: 

Your child yells, “Moooooommmmm! I can’t find my _______.” You stop the important task you were doing and head upstairs or to whatever distant part of the house your child is in and immediately find the “missing” object right where the child was already looking! How did they miss it? My mom used to say, “If it’d been a snake it would have bit you!” when my brother and I (or our dad!) did this to her, which was often.

Knowing what we know now, it’s important to remember that this is a specific visual skill, called Visual Figure-Ground, that is developed over time and can be tricky for children to master. If it’s your adult spouse that can’t find items in plain sight, I have no excuse for them!

Visual Figure-Ground is the skill that allows us to identify a target object within a busy background. It requires skilled visual attention and the ability to filter out competing visual stimuli (the stuff in the background). This happens when we look for a pen in a full junk drawer, a box of rice in a messy pantry, or a certain shoe within a jumbled pile of clothing. For children at school, it might present as difficulty finding a piece of information, text, or numbers on a cluttered board or within a busy worksheet. Many teachers are embracing a more minimalist-style classroom because of the research being done on the effects of visual stimuli on attention. Too many posters, decorations, signs, maps, paintings, etc negatively impact children’s ability to find and focus on the information currently being learned. It has an especially significant impact on children with cognitive or learning disabilities.

Visual Figure-Ground is an important visual skill. If you think your child might be struggling with it–good news! It can be practiced and improved. Check out the list below for lots of fun ways to help your child improve Visual Figure-Ground skills.

Tips and Tricks:

  • Word searches are helpful because the child must hold the correct spelling of a word in their minds as they look for letters in the same sequence within the jumble of letters
  • Hidden Picture puzzles, both online and in print versions.
  • iSpy books. Here’s another one we like!

What are your favorite activities to address Visual Figure-Ground? Let us know in the comments!

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