The 17 Key Visual Skills

So often we often take our ability to see for granted. Most of us live rushed, harried lives that make it difficult for us to focus on much. And realistically, once we’re able to see, we generally don’t take the time to understand why that is.

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The reality however is that there are a number of things, 17 to be exact, that are at play, sometimes a few at once, that allow us to see, read, and understand the world in which we live. Our eyes may be one of the smallest organs we possess, but they are powered by intricate neurological pathways that allow us to process the world in bold, beautiful ways. Even when a child's vision appears to be fine, a visual skill that falls below their grade level will force them to work harder than others do to accomplish what comes naturally to their peers.

 

  • Visual Memory describes our ability to remember the images and words we have seen in the past. Visual memory allows us to copy material on a board into our notebooks, or verbally describe an image we’ve seen in an email or document. Poor visual memory can interfere with academic success and workplace performance.
  • Binocular Coordination occurs when our eyes are able to work together, in concert, in order to focus on the same thing at the same time. This skill is particularly helpful when reading. Binocular deficiencies can lead to the development of convergence insufficiency and a lazy eye.
  • Eye Movement Control describes the ability to move your eyes together in order to focus on a person, picture, or object. This skill relies on the careful coordination of the six ocular muscles that control how the eyes work in unison. This particular skill helps us maintain clear, non blurry images when we read and write. 
  • Pursuits are required in order for our eyes to maintain a smooth transition between two different points. This is a necessary skill when following or tracking a ball’s movement during sports. Deficits in this skill may indicate the presence of a brain injury or be the result of a trauma. 
  • Convergence describes our eyes’ ability to work as a team, whether they are looking inward or focusing ahead. This skill is vital for professional, academic, and athletic performance. Convergence insufficiencies can be detected in patients who cover one eye to read or tilt their head to see clearly.
  • Accommodation Flexibility is necessary in order to accurately see things close up and far away. It is particularly helpful when driving and taking notice of directional signs. Individuals lacking this skill may have a difficult time in classrooms, where they need to read their notes while looking up, and have difficulty driving safely. 
  • Saccades are quick movements that occur at the same time when looking at one or more points. This skill is necessary when reading and writing, such as smoothly moving our eyes across a sentence. The absence of proper saccadic rhythm can lead to dizziness, difficulties maintaining attention and focus, and frequent mistakes.
  • Accommodation Endurance describes the eyes’ ability to focus close up or far away for extended periods of time. This is helpful when using a computer, or attending to tasks for long periods of time. Problems with accommodation endurance can lead to blurred vision and make it more difficult to read as the day progresses. 
  • Spatial/ Visual Learning speaks to the ability to think about and evaluate what you have seen. The ability to understand computations relies heavily on this skill. This skill plays an important role in the learning process, particularly for students who understand material more in picture than word form.

  • Depth Perception is the ability to discriminate between objects that are nearby or far away, particularly as they relate to one another. This skill is particularly important for both athletic and academic success. Individuals lacking this skill make rather unsafe drivers or may bump into things more frequently. 
  • Gross Visual-Motor abilities allow us to move through our environment by using cues that prevent us from bumping into things. This is critical for being able to navigate unfamiliar environments and help us prevent injuries. Those with poor gross visual motor skills are more inclined to bump into furniture, walls, and slippery surfaces.
  • Central Visual Acuity describes the ability to see clearly. This skill is evaluated based on how well you can see when standing a certain amount of feet from a standard eye chart. This is most commonly used to determine if your vision is 20/20 or a variation. Those without this skill generally need corrective lenses. 
  • Peripheral Vision (Side Vision) is the ability to see objects on the side without needing to move our heads or look in their direction. This is helpful during sports activities and helps us determine the safety of our surroundings. In boxing, this skill allows opponents to see surprise punches and defend themselves in response. 
  • Color Perception allows us to discern colors from one another. This is helpful in determining color coded systems such as traffic lights and safety warnings and discerning the movement of an object that is similar to its background color. For example, a white baseball flying across a white, hazy sky. 
  • Fine Visual-Motor movements allow us to focus on activities that require small movements and attention to detail. Sewing, texting, and pixelated artwork rely on this skill. People who lack fine visual-motor skills often have messy handwriting and may be unable to dress themselves (e.g., difficulty fastening zippers and buttons)
  • Visual Integration allows us to combine the stimuli we take in through all of our senses simultaneously. Examples of this skill are demonstrated when we cross the street while drinking coffee, looking at what we’re eating at a restaurant, and playing the piano while reading sheet music, taking notes about what the teacher wrote on the board while listening to the teacher speak. If someone has difficulty with visual integration they may day dream as a way of “turning off” overwhelming stimuli.
  • Visual Perception describes our awareness of our environment and what is happening around us. This describes the sum total of what can be seen within the full breadth of our visual abilities. Challenges to visual perception can compromise fine motor movement and one's overall independence.
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When it's Time to Discuss Vision Therapy

If you or your child have difficulties with any of these skills, schedule an appointment for a functional vision exam with our developmental optometrist to determine whether vision therapy or other interventions might be helpful.

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