Hand-eye coordination is the ability to perform an action that involves the hands and eyes working together. These actions include catching, hitting, and throwing a ball.
Hand-eye coordination is a learned skill that involves the use of the eyes and hands working together to perform an action such as catching a ball, drawing a picture, or writing. The person's eyes information such as the presence of a ball in the air, and the eyes guide the hands to catch it. This dual process involves visual perception from the eyes and the use of movement called skills to do the action.
The process of seeing starts when light from an object such as a ball enters the eye. This light is refracted or bent by the eye. The lens in the eye focuses the image onto the back of the eye. The image of the ball is then turned into a nerve impulse, a type of message that is sent through the optic nerve to the brain. When the nerve impulse reaches the brain, the person sees the ball. Each eye sends a nerve impulse with an image of the ball. The brain processes the impulses so that the person with healthy eyesight sees one ball.
Motor skills are movements that involve the nerves and muscles. Fine motor skills use the small muscles of the body, like those in the hands and fingers, to perform actions such drawing and picking up a toy. Gross motor sills use the large muscles, like those in the arms and legs, to perform actions like throwing a ball and walking.
Development of hand-eye coordination begins at birth, when a baby starts learning to see. The baby must learn to focus, move the eyes, and then to use both eyes together. During this development, the baby learns how to react to the information that the eyes send to the brain.
While each child develops differently, the American Optometric Association (AOA) charted some general milestones in the development of a child's vision and motor skills.
BIRTH TO 4 MONTHS. Between birth and the first four months, the infant focuses primarily on people and objects that are 8–10 in. (20–25 cm) away. The baby also focuses on the face of the parent or other nearby person.
During the first two months, the eyes may seem to wander or the baby may appear cross-eyed. This is generally normal, according to the AOA.
When the child is several months old, the eyes begin working together. By the eighth week, the infant's eyes “more easily” focus on the faces of people who are close to them.
By the age of three months, babies follow moving objects with their eyes and reach for things.
AGES 5 TO 8 MONTHS. There is continued improvement in the control of eye movement and eye-body coordination sills. The baby, who is not born with depth perception, begins to see in depth at five months. This gives the child the ability to judge whether items are close or far away. At five months, the baby is judged to have good color vision.
Babies usually begin crawling at eight months, and this helps develop eye-hand-foot-body coordination. Infants who did little crawling and walked earlier may not learn to use their eyes together as well as those who crawl, according to the AOA.
AGES 9 TO 12 MONTHS. During this time, the baby is usually able to use hands and eyes together. By ten months, the baby generally can grasp things with the thumb and forefinger.
At nine months, the baby tries to pull herself or himself to a standing position. Three months later, most babies crawl or try to walk. The AOA advises parents to encourage babies to crawl so they develop better hand-eye coordination.
1 TO 2 YEARS OLD. The child's hand-eye coordination and depth perception should be well developed, according to the AOA. Children are curious about their environment. They can recognize images in books, and scribble with crayons and pencils.
PRESCHOOL YEARS. The child continues to develop hand-eye coordination and the motor skills needed for activities such as coloring in books, playing with a ball, and completing puzzles. Those fine motor skills will also be used when the child learns to read and write.
SCHOOL AGE. The child is able to use the eyes and hands together in school for activities including writing, reading and playing with a ball.
Vision generally remains stable for healthy adults between the ages of 19 and 40. The emphasis is on maintaining healthy eyes and vision. A common problem is visual stress caused by long hours in front of a computer screen at school or work. To ease this stress, the AOA recommendations include eating a healthy diet and exercising.
During the years from ages 41 to 60, the aging process brings on conditions such as presbyopia. This causes difficulty seeing close distances. The person needs to wear reading glasses or bifocal glasses to read a menu.
Conditions that could affect people after 60 include age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The macula is the center of the light-sensitive retina at the back of the eye. The macula allows people to see fine detail and colors. AMD causes the loss of central vision that is needed to drive, recognize faces, and read. The condition does not affect peripheral (side) vision.
Every person needs hand-eye coordination skills to do activities that include feeding oneself, writing, and walking. Some people further develop their handeye coordination for gross motor skills in order to participate in sports.
For babies and young children, difficulty with hand-eye coordination is usually caused by a vision condition or a movement disorder as the child develops. In adults, difficulties with hand-eye coordination could be caused by conditions such as a stroke, and conditions related to aging such as macular degeneration. In addition, a person with fully developed fine motor skills could have difficulty with sports. Reasons for this could be that the hand-eye coordination needed for these activities was not learned and developed.
A child with impaired hand-eye coordination may have difficulty seeing a toy clearly. This could be caused by problems with visual acuity. If an infant's eyes fail to follow a moving object, this could indicate a problem with the ability of the eye to move.
Ataxia is a lack of muscle coordination when doing movements such as walking or picking up objects. The child may appear clumsy. There are different types and causes of ataxia. A baby may be born congenital cerebellar ataxia, which is caused by damage to the cerebellum. This is the part of the brain responsible for movement.
Ataxia may also be a symptom of other conditions in children and adults. These include a stroke, which is caused by the interruption of the blood supply to the brain.
An optometrist will diagnose some visual causes of hand-eye coordination. The AOA recommends that infants receive their first eye exam between the ages of 6 and 12 months. The doctor will examine the baby for conditions such as nearsightedness and problems with eye movement.
Medical causes of impaired hand-eye coordination such as ataxia are generally diagnosed during the examination and treatment for conditions such as a stroke.
Parents, teachers, or coaches may realize that a child with developed fine-motor skills needs help developing gross motor skills in order to participate in sports or other activities.
Treatment for vision-related causes of impaired hand-eye coordination could include prescribing glasses for visual acuity. Other treatments include eye exercises. In addition, some optometrists provide behavioral vision therapy to help patients better use hand-eye coordination at home and school. Treatment sometimes includes occupational therapy.
Conditions like a stroke may damage the part of the person's brain that knew how to do activities like feed oneself. Occupational therapy helps the person relearn these everyday (occupational) skills. Physical therapy helps the patient reacquire skills such as walking.
Participating in a sport helps to develop hand-eye coordination and is useful for improving overall coordination and balance. Furthermore, there are numerous exercises to improve hand-eye coordination to play a sport. Doing these exercises regularly is necessary for improvement. To make the exercises seem less like a chore, parents could incorporate the exercises into games that involve family members.
A ball is frequently used for hand-eye coordination exercises, with the size of the ball adjusted for the age of the person.
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) recommended playing basketball to developing hand-eye coordination. Children under age 7 could play with a smaller ball of made of either foam or rubber. For family games, ACE recommended using a net that can be lowered for smaller children.
Also useful for developing skills needed for sports is the reaction ball, a round rubber ball with six sides. The ball is about the size of a baseball, and the design causes the ball to bounce randomly. The person trying to catch it has to react and anticipate where it will go. This involves continuously watching the ball, which improves hand-eye coordination and reaction times. The ball can be used by one person who bounces it against a wall and chases it; it can be also used in games with two or more people.
Juggling is another activity often recommended an hand-eye coordination exercise. Tennis balls or other balls that do not bounce are used for this activity. The person starts by tossing a ball from one hand to the other. When the person becomes proficient at tossing the ball to eye level and catching it, another ball is added. This action involves peripheral vision.
OTHER HAND-EYE COORDINATION EXERCISES. Other activities to improve hand-eye coordination include playing ping pong, jumping rope, knitting, and playing a musical instrument.
Computer games are sometimes recommended for hand-eye coordination. However, these games do not involve the whole body, and do not provide the fitness benefits of exercises like throwing and catching a ball.
The prognosis for impaired hand-eye coordination depends on the cause of the condition. Vision treatments such as glasses and eye exercises will sometimes bring improvement.
For the person seeking to improve gross motor skills for a sport, regularly practicing hand-eye coordination exercises could help develop those skills.
People diagnosed with physical conditions that require occupational therapy may also see improvement. The outcome depends on factors such as the type and severity of the condition.
In addition, parents should talk to the baby as they walk around the room, and alternate the left and right sides when feeding. While playing pattycake, people should move the baby's hands as the words are said.
Age-appropriate toys and games help with development for children. Building blocks and balls of different sizes help develop fine motor skills and visual development. Children also learn by playing with stacking toys and puzzles.
See also Baseball ; Softball .
Bennett, Bob. 101 Catching Drills. Monterey: Coaches Choice, 2008.
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“Toys, Games, and Your Child's Vision.” American Optometric Association. AOA.org . http://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/good-vision-throughout-life/toys-games-and-your-childs-vision?sso=y (accessed January 18, 2017).
National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA, 22230, (703) 292-5111, (800) 877-8339, https://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=132230 .