Depth Perception

Is your child unable to guess how far away something is?

Is your child:

  • Not connecting a bat with a ball?
  • Having trouble entering a tunnel slide or water slide?
  • Needing to be reminded to “Watch your step?”
  • Bumping into things?
  • Bumping into walls walking down the hall?
  • Falling down a lot?
  • Having difficulty throwing and catching a ball?
  • Having trouble reaching for items at the dinner table?
  • Not judging how far apart the monkey bars are?



Some children seem to be ‘uncomfortable in their own skin.’ As a parent, you might constantly be saying, “watch out,” “you bumped into someone,” or “watch your step.”

You may feel like your child is more likely to get injured doing day-to-day tasks because of poor awareness of his or her surroundings. Children with these challenges often bump into walls or door frames because they inaccurately judge how big the space is.

Some children with these issues have trouble in sports due to lack of awareness of how far away the ball is or how much speed is required to catch up with an opponent.

Some children with these issues ‘don’t know their own strength,’ That is, they apply too much force when moving or attempting to tackle someone in football. The result is that others may think your child is a bully or is careless. In fact, your child may simply not be aware of where his body is in relation to the objects around him.


Generally, these problems are referred to as ‘poor depth perception.’ These challenges may be related to motor planning, proprioception, visual tracking or spatial perception.

Motor planning: Impairments in motor planning could mean that the parts of the brain responsible for planning and executing gross motor movements are not working smoothly. That is, it may be that your child has difficulty figuring out how to move his body quickly enough and in the right direction.

Depth perception: Challenges with depth perception may also be related to visual tracking, which is visually following words on a page as you read or an object as it moves through space. Thus, your child may have trouble seeing how fast or how far something is moving.

Proprioception: The problem could also be proprioception, which is awareness of one’s own body. A child with these difficulties might find it challenging to judge the distance in space between himself and other objects in the visual field.

Spatial perception: Finally, depth perception problems could be due to spatial perception. That is, your child may have trouble actually seeing where things are supposed to be, for example, not knowing how far the bed is from the wall might lead to bumping into the wall every time the child gets up in the morning.


Some children with more serious issues with depth perception may have difficulty walking and running, get hurt a lot, and may suffer from self-esteem problems as a result.

Other children may simply have a mild delay in terms of the development of depth perception. In order to decide how seriously to take this concern, parents should consider whether or not this problem is ‘getting in the way’ of life and learning.

If you have concerns about your child’s depth perception, it may be helpful to have his or her vision checked by an eye doctor. Any concerns should be noted in a visit with your child’s pediatrician. It may be necessary to consider any significant medical influences on balance and coordination.

In this case, children are often referred to physical or occupational therapists for treatment. Physical therapy (PT) is warranted if gross motor movement like walking or running is impacted; Occupational therapy (OT) is warranted if fine motor skills are impacted.

Finally, some children with more serious depth perception challenges may struggle with reading or math. If your child’s learning is impacted, it is important to talk to the school about any potential supports that could be needed in the classroom.

For example, your child may need help when building a model or performing a physical demonstration in class. When working in a group, he may be assigned to a less visually demanding task, such as doing the research or presenting the material verbally. However, more minor challenges with depth perception may remediate after the child has more time to practice and develop. Sports like gymnastics and swimming may help your child strengthen these depth perception abilities.

Activities to help increase your child’s depth perception

  • Placing objects on 3 stairs and giving directions (e.g., move the pencil in front of the plate, move the teddy bear behind the scissors)
  • Building an obstacle course with certain objects to avoid hitting
  • Placing a spaghetti noodle vertically in playdoh and placing cheerios on it
  • Board games, such as Scatterpillar Scramble, Operation, Pick-up-Sticks, Elefun, and Avalanche Fruit Stand
  • Playing nerf basketball, ring toss or badminton


If your child is struggling with a similar problem, not directly addressed in this section, see the list below for links to information about other related symptom areas.

  • Body space awareness: standing too close or failing to read social cues can impact depth perception[1]
  • Coordination: running or walking problems can by impacted by depth perception
  • Attention (Focusing): shifting or sustaining attention problems can impact depth perception
  • Learning problems: reading or writing challenges can by impacted by depth perception
  • Spatial: solving jigsaw puzzles, word searches, crossword puzzles, and reading maps or graphs can impact depth perception


Children who have significant problems in this area may have any of the following potential disabilities. *Note, this does not serve as a diagnosis in any way. See ‘Where to Go for Help’ section for professionals who can diagnose or provide a referral.

  • Developmental Coordination Disorder: challenges with fine motor, likely including poor handwriting
  • Learning Disabilities (Educationally identified disabilities): challenges with reading, writing, or math
  • Dysgraphia (Educationally identified disabilities – may be diagnosed clinically as well): challenges with writing due to visual or motor processing deficits
  • Autism: challenges with body-space awareness and reading non-verbal cues may be a signal of autism; motor delays may also be an early sign of ASD [2, 3, 4]
  • ADHD: problems with attention and disinhibition can be related to body-space awareness [5, 6, 7]
  • Motor Apraxia: challenges with gross motor movement


If your child is struggling with this symptom to the point that it is getting in the way of his learning, relationships, or happiness, the following professionals could help; they may offer diagnosis, treatment, or both.

  • CLEAR Child Psychology: to provide a ‘live’ consultation with a psychologist or to obtain a profile of your concerns for your child
  • Physical Therapist: to assess and treat gross motor coordination; to help with large muscle groups and movement
  • Occupational Therapist: to assess and treat fine motor skills and sensory integration needs
  • Psychologist or Neuropsychologist: to consider symptoms in context, as they may be related to visual spatial problems, attention, or learning
  • Optometrist or Ophthalmologist: to check child’s vision (if necessary)

These professionals may recommend or administer the following tests for this symptom:

  • MVPT-4: assesses areas of visual perception
  • Beery VMI sequence: assess visual-motor integration, visual perception and motor coordination
  • WISC-V: using tasks of block design, coding, symbol search and cancellation. Looks specifically at visual tracking and visual motor skills.
  • DAS-2: provides a spatial index score consisting of block design and a copying or recalling designs subtest. Concerns can be assessed using the spatial index.
  • WIAT-III or WJ-IV: for related concerns in reading, writing, or math
  • TOWL: provides standard, age and grade equivalent scores for writing only
  • Writing Samples: visual-spatial skills may impact handwriting problems


[1] Cook, Julia (2012). Personal space camp.


[2] Kroncke, Willard, & Huckabee (2016). Assessment of autism spectrum disorder: Critical issues in clinical forensic and school settings. Springer, San Francisco.

[3] Baker, Jed. (2001). The social skills picture book: Teaching play, emotion, and communication to children with autism.


[4] Baker, Jed. (2006) Social skills picture book for high school and beyond.


[5] Barkley, Russell A. (2013). Taking charge of ADHD, 3rd edition: The complete, authoritative guide for parents.


[6] Giler, Janet Z. (2000). Socially ADDept: A manual for parents of children with ADHD and / or learning disabilities.


[7] Giler, Janet Z. (2011). Socially ADDept: Teaching social skills to children with ADHD, LD, and Asperger’s.


Image Credit:
Description: Young Girl Softball Player Batting in Competitive Game
Stock Photo ID: #171298667 (iStock)
By: YinYang
Previously Licensed on: May 13, 2017
Stylized by Katie Harwood exclusively for CLEAR Child Psychology

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