An infant's ability to see develops to full maturity over the first 8 months of life. In his book "Life-Span Development," John Santrock writes that visual depth perception is present by 3 or 4 months of age. This important development occurs before the baby's gross and fine motor skills really take off and acts as a naturally built-in safety measure that helps an infant be cautious as he develops the ability to independently explore his world.
1. Normal Visual Depth Perception Development
By the time an infant reaches 6 months of age, her vision should be nearing 20/20 and she can coordinate the use of both eyes together, learning to judge distances and locate the placement of objects. This development, paired with maturing gross motor development, allows for rapid growth of visual depth perception, according to the Children's Vision Information Network website. During this time, babies learn to focus on near and far objects, as well as estimate their size. The improvement of their spatial and dimensional awareness is evident as their aim for items of interest becomes more accurate, leading to the honing of fine motor skills, such as grasping.
2. Impact on Fine Motor Skills
Parents first notice a baby's fine motor skills as they see him begin to discover his fingers or grasp for nearby objects. Impairment of visual depth perception can have a negative impact of the development of fine motor skills. While muscle development plays an important role in both gross and fine motor abilities, Santrock points out that perception-motor coupling is necessary for babies to coordinate fine motor skills. Younger infants are less likely to rely on perception to guide their movements, so it is possible an impairment in depth perception can be overlooked.
3. Signs of Visual Depth Perception Impairment
Parents of infants anticipate the developmental milestones of their baby's first year with excitement. However, if a child fails to reach those milestones, especially in fine motor skills, it may be a sign of visual depth perception impairment. Kids in Motion OT, a therapeutic sensory gym, says that parents of older children may notice them struggling to reach out for items on the dinner table and grasping the monkey bars at the park. By setting up activities where your child must use his depth perception, like placing items on a stairway at different levels and leading your child through instructions requiring him to move them to specific locations, can help to identify if depth perception is an issue.
4. Therapy to Improve Depth Perception
Visual depth perception impairment, if left untreated, may interfere with normal development of both gross and fine motor skills and can lead to future struggles in academic studies. The Vision & Conceptual Development Center (VCDC) website says that early intervention can help children overcome deficits caused by visual depth perception impairment. Vision therapy can correct visual shortcomings by training the eyes to learn the skills they lack. The VCDC website says that visual therapists can teach children how to use their eyes correctly and integrate their visual skills with the rest of their senses and movements.
- Vision Therapy Development Center: Childhood Vision Therapy
- Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired: Preschool Children with Visual Impairments
- Children's Vision Information Network: Learning to See -- How Vision Develops
- Kids in Motion OT: Visual Perceptual Activities: Depth Perception
- Life-Span Development: Chapter 3; John Santrock
- Siri Stafford/Photodisc/Getty Images