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How Adults Can Support Spatial Perception


All Ages Strategy


Spatial Perception

How Adults Can Support Spatial Perception

If your student struggles with spatial skills

When It Matters

Spatial perception refers to how well one understands visual materials and their position in space, such as maps, graphs, and 3-D objects.Spatial ability plays a critical role in developing expertise in STEM fields (Wai et al., 2009). Students use spatial perception when interpreting graphs, charts and maps, as well as in keeping numbers aligned, or problem solving with 3-D objects. Students use it to understand objects' relative locations and sizes, how they fit together or can be rotated. Spatial perception is also a skill that affects reading and writing. Students with weak spatial perception might have difficulty tracking words on a page or keeping their writing organized.

What To Keep In Mind When Supporting Your Student

  1. In many cases, a spatial perception weakness might not become a problem until the skill is needed for a very specific task, such as drawing, reading graphs or maps, or working with geometric figures.
  2. You might notice your student avoids certain activities that rely on spatial skills. However, because spatial perception does not affect academic topics as broadly as other skills, difficulty with this skill can often go unnoticed.
  3. Make sure your student knows that a spatial perception weakness does not need to be a deterrent if they are prepared with the right-fit strategies.

Top Go-to Strategies

  1. Teach students how to describe what they see when faced with a visual-spatial task. Talking through it will help them understand, organize and make the connections they need to help with the task. For example, when doing a puzzle, the student can say out loud I am going to find the straight edges first, or I will put all the pieces with red in a pile to work on first.
  2. Have students use physical objects to understand relative distances, sizes and placement of objects so they do not need to rely solely on visualizing it in their head.
  3. When drawing a diagram or model, help students break it down into the most basic shapes. Even the most complex construction can be broken down initially into basic shapes.
  4. When solving math problems, have students use graph paper to keep numbers in columns. Keeping numbers aligned will go a long way to preventing mistakes. Be sure to give the decimal point its own column. They can also use graph paper to help themselves accurately draw to scale.
  5. Multi-colored pencils are also a good tool to help keep numbers aligned and distinguish numbers, shapes, or anything else when drawing pictures for word problems, geometry or science diagrams.
  6. Removing unnecessary distractions on paper will help students focus where they need. Cover up other problems on the page with another blank piece of paper.
  7. Provide worksheets with only a few problems on a page so students have plenty of room to work neatly.
  8. Reading strips or tinted transparencies can help students focus their eyes on a page of text.
  9. Ultimately, it is most important that your student begins to recognize and adapt when a weaker skill is interfering in learning. Middle or High School students can use this checklist to become more self-aware of their spatial perception. Find additional ideas for a student who has an IEP or 504 Plan here.