Visual Motor Integration
Visual motor integration is the ability to coordinate the eyes and hands with the brain.
At Harp, we've found that most students come to us weak in this area. It takes longer than normal to copy images (writing), work is messy, or figures are distorted. Although the connection to writing and math is obvious, visual motor integration also affects reading and spelling.
When fine motor and spatial skills are weak, the student has a difficult time orienting himself on a page. She might also skip lines when reading or have a hard time grasping and turning pages.
Visual motor integration is one of our lowest level skills and it forms the foundation of further learning and skills. All too often, educators ask students to write and formulate ideas on paper before they're physically able to do this. Instead of taking them back and filling in these visual motor integration skills, the students are given harder and bigger expectations.
This doesn't work!
The Hierarchy to Learning
Anyone who has been around babies and toddlers knows there's a hierarchy to learning. The toddler walked before running. She learned a host of gross motor skills before using her thumb and index finger to pick up that scrap of paper on the floor. As a baby, he rolled over before creeping or crawling.
Humans learn like this...from the outside to the inside, from large muscle movement to small muscle movement. And we know that boys, in general, develop approximately two years later than their female counterparts.
Yet our school system fails to take this into consideration. Boys are placed in classrooms with girls of the same ages. While boys are working on their large motor skills, girls are busy using their eyes, hands, and brains as a well-connected team.
Girls come to the table with a host of skills their male peers don't. They can hold a pencil correctly, sit and focus, and make figures with neatness and accuracy. Teachers are frustrated when little boys want to be out of their seats and moving around instead of sitting and focusing. Often, these young learners are misdiagnosed as having ADD/ADHD and placed on potent medications...all while their brains and bodies are still forming and developing.
These boys are placed in the lowest reading and math groups, fail tests, and are often labeled as behavior problems, when all they're really doing is developing their bodies the way nature intended.
A Multi-Faceted Problem
The biggest problem about visual motor integration deficits isn't regarding the actual skill itself. It's the crossover it has with other subject areas in school. Visual motor integration affects every other subject on a child's report card, not just handwriting skills.
In math, a student with poor visual motor integration will have a difficult time lining up columns, keeping up with multi-step writing, have a difficult time copying from the board, and will fail timed tests. Not because he's weak in math skills, but he can't coordinate his eyes with his hands and brain.
In spelling, once again, papers will be messy and the teacher can't decipher a "p" from a "g". The student might forget letters because it's difficult to deep up the pace of writing so much. She might have to have words repeated or not be able to transfer spelling into writing. Not because she's weak in writing, but the process of "handwriting" is too laborious.
Every subject, even P.E. and art, are affected by visual motor integration skills, and the sad thing is that it's too difficult to untangle this skill from its academic counterparts. A teacher can't always tell if it's the student's writing or the actual word problem that is incorrect. All too often, kids weak in this area learn to put down any answer in any order, just hoping it might be correct. They can't worry about neatness or accuracy, because they're working at capacity just getting the problem on paper.
Keyboarding Isn't the Answer
It's common for a student struggling with visual motor integration to be given a laptop or tablet so he can type or use a word processing program to write papers and assignments.
In theory, this is an excellent idea, and kids love having that option. But if you think about it, the same skill set exists for typing as for writing. The eyes, the hands, and the brain must communicate. Once again, unless the actual skill of visual motor integration is addressed, the student will fail to keep up with her peers. And sometimes, the laptop only serves as a distraction. Instead of composing a paragraph, the student is fooling around with other programs or is sneaking onto the internet.
If a student is given technological assistive devices, then be sure that proper typing skills are taught. Students can teach themselves these skills, especially if they're weak in visual motor integration.
Once kids have strong visual motor integration skills, keyboarding can be taught and laptops, computers, and tablets can be used as intended...as a tool to help kids succeed in an educational setting.
Symptoms of Visual Motor Integration Issues
poor spatial awareness
misalignment of letters and numbers
difficult time staying in the lines when coloring
difficult time writing words in a vertical column
incorrect pencil grip
uneven cutting with scissors
avoidance of puzzles
difficult time copying from the board
poor spatial skills
difficult time keeping words and letters on a horizontal line when writing
difficulty in sports
Typically, if a student has poor visual motor integration skills, she is taken to an occupational therapist. Sometimes, this can be quite helpful, but treatment options in this arena don't always coincide with academic needs. This can also be a costly option.
At Harp, we work with visual motor integrations skills from the onset of our program. Students are on balance boards and mini-tramps in order to put gross motor skills into place. More detailed activities start right away in the Yellow Level. Kids work with beads, clothespins, small and large balls among other activities that help them increase visual motor integration skills.
The result? Students who can write, read, spell, and do math with ease. Students with neat art projects and legible handwriting. Students who can keep up in sports and who have excellent fine motor skills.
All too often, kids are judged on something as simple as visual motor integration, when it only takes a concentrated effort to help them strengthen this crucial building block to learning.