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Strategies for Visual-Motor Integration Problems

You would not believe how many people search Google for “visual-motor integration” and stumble upon my blog. Or maybe you would, as visual-motor integration problems affect virtually all aspects of producing work since it involves eye-hand coordination. That basically affects all pencil and paper tasks. So how can teachers and parents help kids who struggle with visual-motor problems?

Here are some basic tips. Keep in mind that not all visual-motor problems are the same. Some kids have problems with the visual part (seeing the differences in shapes, remembering what letters look like), some with the motor part (like writing with your non-dominant hand) and some with the integration. Nonetheless, the tips are helpful for all kids who are slower with their writing and copying. First, I recommend starting with remediation (practicing the skill that is hard) and then moving toward accommodations and modifications (changing the task or allowing for extra time to complete tasks) as the student gets older.

1) For younger students, integrate non-writing ways to enhance visual-motor skills, such as cutting with scissors, making shapes or objects with play-do, practicing buttoning, zipping, and tying, pouring, etc.

2) Young students may also enjoy tracing pictures in books with tracing paper, doing mazes, or doing puzzles, all which can help build eye-hand coordination.

3) Some students’ visual motor problems result in them making errors that they do not catch on visual scanning tests. These students may benefit from interventions around study skills, such as evaluating the difficulty of the task before beginning, and strategies for checking work. For example, if a student tends to do a whole worksheet on mixed math facts (addition, subtraction, division, multiplication) with errors in noticing the sign has changed, have him or her highlight the math sign in a different color before starting (pink for addition, yellow for subtraction, etc.)

4) Avoid visually complex worksheets. When worksheets cannot be modified, have the student cover up all the problems except the one s/he is working on with a white piece of paper to reduce overwhelming visual information.

5) Allow the use of cursive or print on written assignments.

6) Modify the assignments and materials when necessary by shortening assignments (striving for quality, not quantity).

7) Teach word processing skills so the student can learn compensatory strategies for handwriting assignments.

8) For older students who have become resistant to writing and copying, start thinking about modifications such as having a peer note taker, providing copies of the notes, giving extra time to complete longer writing assignments, and letting the student type, record, or give answers orally instead of in writing.

9) Acknowledge honestly that the student is having a difficult time (e.g. “Yes, I know writing is hard for you and when writing takes that much effort, it can make you feel tired or frustrated.”) Let him or her know that teachers and family members are going to work together to help him or her succeed.

10) If appropriate to the student’s developmental level, use a computer analogy to explain why the student struggles or works slowly (“It seems to me that you are like a brand-new fast computer with a printer that can sometimes be a little slower. You have such good ideas though if we can get them out! Let’s work together to figure out a way.”) Then brainstorm which modification or accommodation would work best in the situation (e.g. dictating ideas, using a computer, starting with a graphic organizer).

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Comments on Strategies for Visual-Motor Integration Problems

  1. Natalie says:

    This topic instantly reminds me of video games, which are especially popular with kids… Do you find that kids who play video games are helped or hindered?

  2. Natalie,

    I have wondered the same thing as well, but haven’t seen any research on if video game skills transfer to other types of visual-motor skills, or if it only improves your video-game skills. My hunch is the latter, but I don’t know. Hopefully, some Occupational Therapist will read our pleas and see what they think!

  3. I LOVE your computer and printer analogy. I have a creative little person who has all the ideas but gets completely lost in the process of writing them down and so simply chooses not to. Leads to all sorts of issues with teachers.

    Thank you. Nat

  4. Dinesh says:

    I have student whose disability is VMI,and I am trying to teach her division. What can I do to help her learn the steps?

  5. Rebecca says:


    Your question is worth a whole post! Multi-step math problems can be so difficult for kids with VMI problems because the get lost about where they were and lining everything up. Here are few quick suggestions, pending a long post about it!

    Use graph paper, with the big squares, so when she is lining up the problems, she doesn’t do the classic error of putting the numbers in the wrong column.

    Have her highlight each row in a different color for each column (e.g. ones column is yellow, tens is blue, hundredths is green, thousandths is pink, etc). Have her consistently use the same color code each time. That way, the columns are more clear for her.

    Have her verbally-mediate her thought processes as she does them. Model for her how to do that (e.g. “Okay first, I’m going to see if all my columns are lined up. Check. Second I’m going to look at the number on the outside and see how many times it can go into this number on the inside….)

    Use a ruler to block out the extraneous information until she needs it (e.g. if there is a one digit number to divide into a three digit number, start with blocking out all but the first number and have her ask herself, “can this number go into this number?” If not, then move the ruler over one and ask again.

    Hope that helps! Happy dividing!

  6. Rebecca says:


    By the way, those suggestions are for long division. I assumed that’s what you meant! If not, let me know where her breakdown is and I can give some more thoughts. 😉

  7. Elaine G. says:

    Can a student with a visual motor processing disorder get a 504 Plan? He is going to be in middle school next year and I’m worried about written assignments.

  8. Anna says:

    My son was just diagnosed with a visual motor processing disorder and YES! he qualified for a 504 plan but not special education. His teacher and principal were instrumental in the process since the teacher had basically been working a modified, accommodating plan with him since the beginning of the school year. Contact the school as soon as possible to get it going as soon as the school year starts! My son is also going to Occupational Therapy as well as counseling (for the emotional issues this disorder brings) and a neurologist for a full neurological exam. Best of luck to you!

  9. Megan says:

    Video games helped me immensely with my hand eye coordination, back in the eighties:) My mom bought me Nintendo and it really did help a bit. The games have a downside, of course, but there are many educational options, or at least non-violent ones, these days….

  10. Anonymous says:

    I am a special educator working w/ college level students. Just received a psychological on a student who is 20 yrs. old w/ a VMI age equivalent to a 6 yr. old. How can I help her?? Luckily, she is at a college that honors accommodations. Any advice would be appreciated!!

  11. Rebecca says:

    @Anonymous: Modify, modify, modify! Have her digitally record lectures or have a note-taker peer, get her to try out MacSpeech or Dragon voice-to-text software, let her mark in test booklets instead of transferring to a Scantron, and let her use a computer to compose in-class essays (with wifi off). At this point, we're looking at accommodation, not remediation. good luck!

  12. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the blog. My grade 7 son is in the gifted class, 99.9th percentile, including visual perception. Two years ago I started to get really concerned about his writing, which was lagging behind other kids, as well as long division which he was having a hard time with because of his digit positioning and lining things up. Finally (1 1/2 years after referral) his VMI was tested. 16th percentile. He just did 6 sessions with the OT (that's all the board allows) to work on cursive, and we have a meeting to discuss computer use for notetaking etc. Recently I noticed he struggled in the math section on data analysis. He could do it in his head, but when he had to recreate the graph, it was a disaster. The math was right but the labelling, etc, was a mess. I am assuming this is related to VMI? How do they make accommodations for those types of issues. And what other issues can I anticipate?
    Proactive mom with a slow to react school board!

  13. Rebecca says:

    @Anonymous: i'd first make sure he was using graph paper with the big squares so the guidelines for the graph are already there. Then, I'd have him verbally mediate ("talk through") his steps as he does them. First, I'll draw the x axis, etc. Graphing can be problematic. He could also learn to graph in Excel or another computer program, if he really struggles.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I(OT) am currently working with a student who has been rec'ing OT for the past 6 yrs. now that has significantly weak VMI skills. He has developed very functional, fluent printing skills, along with keyboarding/word processing skills. Numerous accommodations are built into his IEP (including those noted above). One area that he has some difficulty is art, which is to be expected due to weak VMI skills. One accommodation is that he be allowed to use computer graphics (i.e. clip art) on curriculum based tasks tapping illustration skills, along with use of blank map templates, etc. This student is going into the 5th grade and has done well but the parents remain concerned about these skills and want OT to teach drawing. I have been trying to explain that at this age, accommodations to help bypass these difficulties are more appropriate rather than pulling him out of academics for "drawing activities". (Note: He is already receiving multi sped services in addition to OT). Any feedback or guidance would be appreciated.
    Thanks, Anonymous

  15. Anonymous says:

    Thank you so much for this blog! I have a very intelligent child (I.Q. of 143) who is beginning Middle School in August. He was diagnosed in Pre-Kindergarten with a fine motor delay and a visual motor integration delay, and has since been diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. He has overcome so much in his years of school so far. He started the 2nd grade reading at a 1.2 grade level and with handwriting of a pre-schooler. He is leaving 4th grade on a 5.8 reading level! He scores above or at proficiency level on all standardized tests, and normally does not require the extended time he is allowed on his 504 plan. However, my biggest concern at this time is his handwriting and math skills. It is still VERY hard to ready his handwriting. It is sloppy (at best), but more importantly he continues to have problems with spacing between words and writing on the lines. He wrote something in Sunday School for Father's Day last weekend and our pastor couldn't read it when he was reading all of the children's comments about their fathers. I have brought this up in his 504 meetings the past two years, but I have been told that handwriting is not a big concern and that O.T. can't work with just handwriting. (His O.T. services stopped in 2nd grade.) I know the teachers at the Middle School he is going to will not put up with his writing the way it is now, and I don't know what to do to help him. No practice or exercises we do at home (in the past) seem to have helped. Plus, as Math continues to get harder and he has to line up numbers and complete graphs and so forth…I worry that will become a major problem. My son gets bullied by his peers because he is "different" as it is. I don't want his writing to become another excuse for the other kids to pick on him….and I've already seen this happen a few times. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

  16. Cheryl Yingst Bartel says:

    Hello Anonymous. I have a gifted son who has had VMI issues and been on an IPP (in Canada – Individualized Program Plan) since Grade 5. My suggestion to you is to seek accommodations for your son re handwriting. My son is in an accelerated gifted program, accelerated a grade ahead in math, and he is accommodated with a scribe for tests, more time to take tests, a quiet place so he can subvocalize while taking tests, use of computer on all written assignments, etc. I was told it is more important to focus on accommodation than remediation, and I find this to be especially true with gifted kids (I have two who have handwriting issues, for different reasons). It is incredibly frustrating when your hand can't keep up with your mind, and when you make careless errors because you can't see the carried numbers in multiplication and division. Keep advocating for him, and know that there are other kids out there like him.

  17. Anonymous says:

    No one has mentioned having their student see a behavioral Optomitrist. My daughter has A visual motor Processing disorder, and we have seen great results with her glasses that have a bifocal lense and prisms. As well, she has vision therapy that helps her use strategies when her vision becomes blurred or she may suppress an eye. I would have a developmental/behavior optometrist check your students eyes. Keep in mind that this is not necessisarilly a vision acuity issue so your regular opthomologist / eye doctor will not give all of the test that a "behavior" Optomitrist will give. They deal more with the eye-brain connection. This made a huge difference in addressing some of our concerns.

  18. Michelle Petraitis says:

    Hello. I have a daughter with visual processing disorder. I fight with EVERYONE about her. She is finishing 6th grade and I feel she should repeat, because she is missing so much. I need help with appropriate accommodations. I cry because I feel that I am losing a beautiful mind to the small minded people that teach her, they think she is lazy. (Some days I do too!) We have set up testing for this summer again, but I really need to know some strategies for accommodating her disability. I am shopping schools again. No one understands her problem and most are not willing to learn. Is there a place to go to read more information on Middle School Accommodations. I don't know what else to do

  19. We just got the diagnosis on visual processing disorder found by the behavior optometrist. I am now trying to figure out what accommodations my daughter will need on the 504. Any help is appreciated since the school is working with me to get it done immediately!

  20. S says:

    I find it so interesting there are many gifted with vmi issues. Any particular link or ideas why this is?

    We are going in for an IEE (after 2 failed IEP attempts) this week with recommendations of OT, vision therapy for neuroadaptive learning then perceptual learning, accommodations, and education neuroadaptive lenses. I am so hopeful.

    He absolutely despises, is rigid and very poor at writing. I hope the therapies help him feel more confident in writing and work. Luckily we homeschool, but I still need the therapies. He is 7 and 5th percentile beery vmi.

    1. Rebecca says:

      Hi S. Hard to advise from afar without more context, but one thing you can ask of the IEE team is perhaps some investigation into compensatory bypass strategies alongside the remediation strategies, so that his vmi issues do not prevent him from work production. Depends on the age, but sometimes voice-to-text software can be a way for him to increase output with less frustration than the physical act of writing. Food for thought! In general, both remediation (Working on the vmi skills) and accommodation (finding alternative ways to produce) can be considered, depending on his age. I hope you get some good information from the IEE!

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