Toddler Perceptual Development

girl holding purple and green camera toy

Perception is the interpretation of sensory input through vision, hearing, taste, smell, touch, temperature and pain. The development of perceptual abilities begins in infancy and continues well into the toddler years.

Perceptual Development in Toddlers

Most of the perceptual development in toddlers is the development of attention. Attention refers to the ability to focus on a person, object or task. The early childhood years are a time when the child learns to use his senses deliberately and strategically to gather information for the task at hand.

As toddlers develop, three main things begin to change:

  • their attention span becomes longer
  • they become more selective in what they attend to
  • they are better able to plan and carry out ways to use their senses to achieve goals

Attention Milestones in Toddlers

  • Up to 2 years old: attention is becoming more selective, the toddler is able to form plans of action which guide what he focuses on and what he ignores
  • 2-3 years old: generally have an attention span on average of 18 minutes, but are still more easily distracted than adults

Development of Vision in Toddlers

The majority of vision development occurs in infancy; however, vision also continues to develop during the toddler years. The following aspects of vision development are particularly important in the toddler years:

  • eye-hand coordination: enables a toddler to grasp, handle and throw objects accurately
  • eye teaming: the ability to move both eyes at the same time
  • depth perception: knowing when objects are near or far away when looking at them

The following activities will help improve the development of depth perception, eye teaming, and eye-hand coordination in a toddler:

  • stacking blocks
  • drawing, coloring, and cutting
  • putting together lock-together toys

Vision Problems in Toddlers

Symptoms of vision problems in toddlers include:

  • constant eye rubbing
  • extreme light sensitivity
  • poor focusing
  • poor visual tracking (the ability to follow objects)
  • abnormal alignment or movement of the eyes
  • chronic redness of the eyes
  • chronic tearing of the eyes
  • white pupil instead of black

If you suspect that your toddler is suffering from vision problems, it is important to have it tested by a medical professional as soon as possible. If vision problems are detected early, they can often be treated successfully and/or reversed.

Development of Hearing in Toddlers

Hearing is a critical part of toddler development as it effects cognitive, emotional, social and language development. Your toddler should respond to all sounds, such as loud noises, music and voices.

If a toddler has difficulty in hearing, or his speech development seems impaired, he may be suffering from hearing loss.

Symptoms and Causes of Hearing Problems in Toddlers

Symptoms of hearing loss in toddlers include:

  • difficulty paying attention
  • not reacting to sounds
  • delays in speech development
  • difficulty hearing all types of sounds or only hearing sounds from one side of the head

Causes of hearing loss in toddlers may include:

  • ear infections (signs include rubbing and pulling the ear, unusual irritability)
  • head trauma
  • injury or illness
  • genetic conditions
  • build up of wax in the ear canal
  • exposure to extreme loud noise

If you suspect that your toddler is having difficulty in hearing, it is important to have it checked out by a medical professional immediately. Once the toddler’s hearing has been evaluated, treatment can commence. The earlier treatment commences the better, as it will reduce the chance of hearing loss effecting other areas of the toddler’s development.

How to encourage development of the senses in a toddler

To encourage perceptual development in a toddler and to help detect any sensory problems, try these activities:

  • listen and dance to music
  • play singing games
  • point out objects and verbalise the objects name
  • teach your toddler animal names and the sounds they make
  • read books and encourage your toddler to point out objects in the pictures
  • drawing and coloring with water-based markers/crayons/chalk
  • give him toys that require attention, such as building blocks and puzzles
  • teach your child about touch and temperature, such as letting them feel something warm and cold, and saying the words “hot” and “cold” while he is touching the item
  • let your toddler smell different items and teach them the names, such as smelling a flower, or your perfume

This article is for informational purposes only. If you are concerned about the development of your toddler, it is important to seek advice from a medical professional.

Sources:

Carol K. Sigelman and Elizabeth A. Rider. Life-Span Human Development. California: Wadsworth.

Childrens Vision. “Toddlers and Preschoolers”.

Kids Health. “Your Child’s Vision”.

Medline Plus. “Toddler Health”.

Types of Hearing Loss. “Toddler Hearing Problems”.

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