Visual Perceptual Skills in Dressing

Visual Perceptual Skills in Dressing

From the playground to the classroom; exciting, new adventures to all the ordinary, everyday activities; visual perceptual skills play an important role in our ability to perform all motor tasks. This post focuses on visual perceptual skills involved in developing independence in the self care activity of dressing. 

Visual Perceptual Skills in Dressing KPS.001


Visual perception relies on good oculomotor  (visual) skills. These refer to “the ability to move the eyes in a smooth controlled manner” (Rigg, 2011, p.7), and are essential for scanning, finding, tracking and fixing gaze on objects.

Visual perception is “all about making sense of what we see, so it actually occurs in the brain, not the eyes” (Rigg, 2011, p.21). It enables the processing of visual information. It’s about how we identify and understand visual input; “the interpretation and organization of what is seen” (Martin, 2006, p.13). This ability to interpret visual information begins from birth. (Rigg, 2011).

Visual perceptual skills include:

  • visual discrimination (identifying specific features of objects, eg. shape, colour…)
  • visual memory (recognising a visual stimulus/object you have just seen, after a short period of absence)
  • spatial relationships (understanding positions of object(s) in relation to oneself or other objects)
  • form constancy (identifying similar/same forms even if one may be smaller/larger, placed in a different orientation, or surrounded by a different environment).
  • sequential memory (recalling patterns/sequences of visual stimuli after a short period of absence).
  • figure-ground (identifying an object from a busy background or surrounded by other visual distractions, focusing on the relevant stimuli).
  • visual closure (identifying a ‘whole’ from parts or partially completed forms; involves skills of prediction).

These skills rarely happen in isolation.

Occupational therapists are concerned with everyday activities, and whilst most (daily) tasks require strong visual perceptual skills, they usually also overlap with attention, cognitive, language and motor skills.


Dressing skills which may be challenging for children with visual perceptual skill difficulties, include:

  • visual discrimination: the ability to locate intended clothing items (T-Shirt, pants, socks), identifying similar/different clothing items; and sort according to size/colour/shape
  • visual memory: the ability to copy patterns/shapes such as matching clothes with details (eg. socks); and follow an instruction to put on clothing with a specific design or feature.
  • spatial relationships: the ability to orient clothing the correct way (top/bottom, front/back, correct/inside out); and matching/negotiating clothing correctly and efficiently in relation to
    body. Identifying and correcting any errors of clothing twisting, folding (eg. collars), tucking…
  • form constancy: the ability to identify smaller/larger versions of the same clothing item; and recognising items as the same even if positioned on a different angle.
  • sequential memory: the ability to locate a number of specific clothing items in correct order, sequencing clothing items correctly when dressing/undressing.
  • figure-ground: the ability to find certain clothing items in a drawer/closet full of clothes; and being able to shift attention from one part of the clothing to another (eg. arm or leg ‘entry’ or ‘exit’ holes of the clothing).
  • visual closure: the ability to identify which clothing item and ‘hole’ is which, even when only part of the clothing is clearly visible.
  • Additionally, the following sensory motor skills which all significantly overlap with visual perceptual skills, are important within the context of dressing: body awareness (body parts, left/rights sides), co-ordinating both sides of the body, (crossing midline, bilateral coordination),  eye hand coordination (efficiently manipulating clothing on body parts, including the fine motor manipulation of fasteners – zippers, buttons, laces, etc), and the ability to plan, predict and execute smooth, efficient movements/action sequences (motor planning).

Challenges with visual perceptual difficulties can mean that dressing can become a time consuming, frustrating, upsetting, disheartening activity. However, there are plenty of strategies which can be easily incorporated in children’s daily routines, to target and compensate for visual perceptual difficulties.

Visual perceptual skill building activities


Strategies will vary depending on each child’s specific profile. Ideas to support children with visual perceptual difficulties to develop independence and confidence in dressing include:

1. Visual perceptual skill building ideas:

  • Practise drawing bodies/clothes
  • Matching games and activities (eg. craft – felt clothes on body outlines – choosing and positioning items correctly, ‘Snap’, sorting games, ‘find and colour’  – objects of particular shapes/sizes colouring sheets, beading – following a pattern of which colour/shape/size to put in which order, copying pegboard patterns, block constructions and play dough shapes, jigsaw and other puzzles)
  • Seeking games (eg. ‘I Spy’, ‘Find-a-words’, finding hidden objects (many children’s books have wonderful ‘Can you see the …’ pages/themes), treasure hunts, scavenger hunts, even looking for animals within their habitats at the zoo!)
  • Fold pictures (in half or more) and ‘Guess the part exposed picture’, guess the shape in ‘Dot to dot’ activities, and join the dots.
  • Identifying clothes to peg (DIY felt clothes shapes to hang on a mini clothes line)
  • Body awareness action songs and games (eg. ‘Hokey Pokey’, ‘Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’, ‘1,2,3,4,5 Once I Caught a Fish Alive’, ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’, ‘Simon Says’ , ‘The mirror game’ – where you have to imitate the person in front of you as if they were looking in the mirror and you are the mirror, …)
  • Yoga

2. Ideas to boost practise opportunities in natural contexts:

  • Dressing practise with dolls and teddies/soft toys (Check out this post for inspiration around Baby Symbolic Play Props). Maybe even a “What’s Wrong, Dressing Detective?” game (identify the error – eg. left shoe on right foot, sock on hand, singlet over top, inside out pants, …)
  • Dressing practise throughout the day, not only in the morning and the evening (eg. allowing more time to encourage independence: when toileting, changing at swimming pool/beach, shopping centre change rooms, changing after rainy/snowy/puddle play, …)
  • Dress ups/costumes, pretend play
  • Helping to match socks and sort laundry into piles for family members
  • Helping to hang laundry out (even on a portable clothes horse), identifying items, and orientating to right way up, front facing forward…

Visual perceptual skills in dressing- practise at home

3. Visual and verbal prompts to support dressing success: 

  • Access to a mirror in which the child can see their whole body
  • Someone (eg. parent, sibling,..) sitting alongside the child, providing a visual example of what is expected
  • Visual prompts of items/orientations/matching up of items to body (eg. drawings/ photos…)
  • Add L and R, little ‘smiley faces’, or marks with a permanent marker on the inside of each shoe, to match up left and right correctly (the faces go near each other to say “hi!”)…
  • Making use of elements of clothes to assist visual perception skills, and repeating little chants around them consistently (eg. ‘ head in the middle hole – one arm to the right, one arm to the left’, ‘tags to the back’, ‘zip to the front’, …)
  • Adding additional visual aids to the clothes themselves (eg. coloured line, sewn ribbon at back of clothing items…) or referring to existing features (‘seam to the side’, ‘pocket to the back’).
  • Choosing more simple clothes (eg. elastic band rather than fasteners – zips/buttons…), which generally work as ‘mix and match’, will reduce the visual perceptual and visual motor integration demands in dressing.
  • Lay the clothes out so the whole item is visible
  • Make up a little chant or visual checklist for whatever the focus is in each stage (eg. “choose the clothes, put them in order, check they are the right way up and not inside-out, sit down and lay them on your lap to work out front and back…”
  • Well organised and labelled drawers/closets (even a visual cue such as a drawing of a T-shirt in front of that section).


Martin, N.A., (2006)., Test of Visual Perceptual Skills (3rd Edition), Academic Therapy Publications, Novato, California.

Rigg, D., (2011)., Preparing children for handwriting: Step 2. An activity guide to complement a 41/2 to 51/2 year program., PLD Organisation Pty. Ltd.


Visual perceptual skills in dressing - spatial awareness craft

This post is part of the Functional Skills for Kids 12 Months Series by Occupational and Physical Therapists. You can read all of the functional skills HERE.

Read all of my monthly posts in this series HERE. Looking for more information about dressing from an occupational therapy and physical therapy perspective?

Stop by to see what the other OTs and PTs in the Functional Skills for Kids series have written…

When Do Kids Start to Dress Themselves? | Mama OT

Fine Motor Requirements for Independence with Self-Dressing  | Sugar Aunts

Gross Motor Skills and Independent Dressing | Your Therapy Source

Sensory Considerations for Dressing!  | Your Kids OT

Get Dressed!” How to Modify Your Child’s Dressing Routine  | MissJaimeOT

Teaching Kids How to Dress Themselves: Activities to extend skills | The Inspired Treehouse

Improving Following Directions with Getting Dressed | Growing Hands-On Kids

Visual Perceptual Skills in Dressing  | Kids Play Space

Work on Dressing Skills Through Play Activities  |  Therapy Fun Zone

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  1. Christie @ Mama OT

    I love the way you broke down all the visual perceptual skills, and then linked them with how they each relate to dressing. Got some new ideas for kiddos I work with you struggle with VP and self-dressing…thanks!

    • Anna

      Thanks so much Christie! It is actually always surprising to me how much visual perceptual skills impact all that we do! If you discover any other effective strategies in your practice – I welcome you to stop by again and let me know! Anna:-)

  2. Wow! Huge, helpful list of strategies for play and everyday routines!

    • Anna

      Thanks Margaret! Dressing is often an overlooked activity! Anna:-)

  3. Cindy@Your Kids OT

    Such a comprehensive look at visual perceptual skills and dressing! Love all the suggestions especially those which involve using other systems (such as chants using auditory system) to compensate for visual cues that may have been missed.

    • Anna

      Thank you Cindy (AKA: Visual Perception OT Queen)!!

  4. Jaime Spencer

    I love the recommendation of having kids help with laundry – I tell parents this all the time to help work on motor skills, but it works on visual perception, too! Laundry activities are an awesome OT task- it works on everything! I love the tip about the labeled drawers, too. Being organized always helps! Great post.

    • Anna

      Thanks for stopping by Jaime! You’re right! Laundry tasks are awesome for kids in general! 🙂

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