As infants develop and explore their new world, they are constantly acquiring new skills. The templates for each new discovery are based in pre-existing “primitive” reflexes. These automatic movement patterns provide the building blocks for learning to make more complex movements.
Sometimes babies skip critical steps. For example:
- They may manage to sit up, but bypass crawling with scooting around on their bottom.
- They may learn to walk with hand-holding, before they are ready to balance independently.
- They may prefer to “W-sit,” rather than explore cross-legged sitting which enables body rotation.
These bypasses have implications on this child’s visual and visual-motor development!
The purpose of the visual system is to be able to guide movement, establish goals, and plan the sequential steps to reach those goals. This begins with righting the head, learning to crawl, moving the limbs independently, and setting one’s sights on a destination. From these early movements, children learn to:
- Keep their eyes level, for better eye-teaming and binocular skills
- Support their core, so they can raise the head, look around, and establish a sense of space
- Build eye-movement skills:
- Fixating and following moving targets (smooth pursuits), and
- Responding to changes in motion or activity in their peripheral vision with rapid eye-jumps (saccades)
- Estimate distances
- Estimate the time it takes to travel a distance
- Establish body organization and laterality
- Develop balance, enabling asymmetric body movements
- Sit still and supported, enabling sustained attention
- Respond to peripheral vision, supporting figure-ground awareness and visual-spatial organization
- Plan motor sequences (including crawling, walking, skipping)
- Learn to cross the midline, encouraging exchange between the hands
- Develop visual flexibility, shifting focus between near and far objects
- Move their eyes smoothly and rhythmically in a sequence while reading
- Build the visual-motor planning skills which support fine-motor development, dexterity, and handwriting skills
Dr. Samantha Slotnick incorporates the assessment of six Primitive Reflexes, the building blocks of visual-motor development, into her optometric evaluation.
Children of any age (even adults!) are given the opportunity to re-visit missed learning stages with home-based activities which foster visual-motor development. This directly enables more efficient use of the visual system in gathering and processing information, for learning in an intense, sustained academic environment.