Coté, C. A. (2015). Dynamic systems theory model of visual perception development. Journal of Occupational Therapy, Schools & Early Intervention, 8, 157-169.

This article presents a model for understanding the development of visual perception from a dynamic systems theory perspective. It contrasts to a hierarchical or reductionist model that is often found in the occupational therapy literature. In this proposed model vision and ocular motor abilities are not foundational to perception, they are seen as only a part of the complex interaction of components that give rise to the experience of vision. Other components include tactile perception, movement, language and motivation with attention and knowledge overarching all intelligent perceptual activity. However, this is not simply a summation of components, the “dynamic” aspect is that each component affects and is affected by the others in a moment-by-moment as well as developmental time scale. This model does not begin with the visual image, instead the main driver of this system is the goal of the task. Current research and theoretical work from a variety of disciplines is presented to support the view of perception as a dynamic, chaotic, and nonlinear process that is shaped uniquely by each individual child’s sensory abilities and experiences. A brief discussion is presented on how this model fits within an occupational therapy framework and how it can impact the profession’s way of understanding, assessing and treating children who have difficulty in visual tasks.

Coté, C. A. (2015). Visual attention in a visual-haptic, cross-modal matching task in children and adults.  Perceptual & Motor Skills, 120, 381-396.

Visual fixation patterns were analyzed to gain insight into developmental changes in attention allocation in a cross-modal task. Two patterns that have been associated with increased task difficulty, gaze aversion and fixation duration, were recorded using an eye-tracker. In this exploratory study, 37 elementary age children (M age 7–10 yr.) and 23 undergraduates engaged in visual-only and haptic-visual shape-matching tasks. Theoretical assumptions underlying this study are that children have greater limitations on attention capacity compared to adults, and that a task presented in the cross-modal condition would pose special demands on this capacity. A 2 × 2 (uni- or cross-modal × age group) repeated-measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to analyze both gaze aversion and average fixation duration. Children averted gaze significantly more during the cross-modal condition, supporting the idea that children use gaze aversion as an attention-shifting mechanism. Mean fixation duration increased for both groups in the cross-modal condition. Due to the small number and limited age range of the children as well as the limited number of task items, interpretations are made with caution.

Coté, C. A. (2014). Haptic scanning strategies in children and adults.  OTJR:  Occupation, Participation and Health, 34, 4-11.

Haptic exploration, or active touch, is a perceptual modality that has demonstrated therapeutic potential for elementary age children but is not commonly studied with this age group. The aim of this exploratory study was to discover the characteristics of haptic scanning that are associated with efficiency and accuracy in a shape matching task. The study tasks were designed to resemble common visual perception tests, but in a haptic form using wooden shapes. Children ages 6 years, 6 months to 9 years, 6 months (N = 25), and adults (N = 25) engaged in shape matching tasks that involved either cross-modal (haptic with vision) or unimodal (haptic only) exploration. Video recordings were analyzed and four types of haptic strategies were identified that were significantly related to both age and correctness of response: the simultaneous use of two hands was the highest level and the use of one hand was the lowest. The findings are discussed in terms of attention capacity and ability to use points of reference.


Coté, C.A., (2011, September).  Levels of processing in visual perception tasks. Early Intervention & Schools Special Interest Section Quarterly, 18(3), 1-4.  
The purpose of this paper is to offer a different approach to assessing task performance.  Rather than look at separate components, an    assessment of the levels of processing that are involved in all visual perception tasks is proposed.  Thus, regardless of whether the task is form constancy or figure-ground, whether it is non-motor or has a motor output component, and whether it is a standardize test item or a classroom activity, performance can be interpreted in terms of the general cognitive analysis abilities the child brings to the task. The ultimate goal of this approach is to understand why an easy visual task is easy and what makes a more challenging one challenging.  Such an understanding would point the way to helping children be more successful on visual tasks that support educational goals. 
(PDF available below.)

Coté, C.A., (2011).  An external validity study of the Visual Memory subtest from the Test of Visual Perceptual Skills - 3rd edition.  British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 74, 484-488.


External validity of the Visual Memory subtest of the Test of Visual Perceptual Skills – 3rd Edition was measured by comparing the subtest scores to performance on a Draw-from-Memory activity.  Participants were 80 school age children, including 28 identified as learning disabled.  A moderate correlation (r = .411) was found, supporting the hypothesis that the two measures are related.  However, the learning disabled children accounted for much of the covariance found, possibly due to the mix of verbal and non-verbal disabilities.  The validity of the standardized measure as a predictor of a related activity was only weakly supported.


Coté, C. A., (2009). The influence of a misleading context on a design copying task with learning-disabled and non-disabled children, American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 63, 481-489.


Objective.  I investigated developmental and ability differences on a visual-motor task that requires inhibition of misleading information.

Method.  Children, including those with and without learning disabilities, and adults copied simple line or dot figures inside a tilted frame with instructions to make the figures straight.  Two response methods were used:  drawing (motor) and placement of bars or washers (motor-reduced).

Results.  All participants were influenced by the misleading frame, making figures that deviated from true vertical in both motor and motor-reduced formats.  Adults were less influenced than children, and children with learning disabilities were more influenced than their peers.  Production of more complex figures resulted in increased influence of the misleading frame.

Conclusion.  The ability to inhibit misleading contextual information and find an appropriate frame of reference may be an important developmental process in visual-motor skill development.  Implications for assessment and task analysis are discussed.

Coté, C. A. and Golbeck, S. (2007). Pre-schoolers’ feature placement on own and others’ person drawings. International Journal of Early Years Education, 15, 231-243.

Abstract. Young children find meaning in the drawings they create that may not be apparent to an adult observer.  The purpose of this study is to access the children’s views using a drawing change task.  Seventy-three preschoolers were asked to draw a person and then draw a person with a belly button.  It was anticipated that tadpole (no separate body) drawers would include a body to accommodate this new feature.  Instead the belly buttons were included without modifications to the figure suggesting that in the children’s view tadpole figures are not as deficient as they might appear.  When placing a belly button on a figure drawn by someone else 40% of tadpole drawers responded differently compared to their own.  Possible explanations considered are the effect of active involvement in creating a drawing, the respect for another’s drawing intention, and lack of awareness of differences due to working memory limitations.

Coté, C. A. and O’Donnell, A. M. (2007).  Field dependence and stimulus complexity in a figure copying task.  Perceptual and Motor Skills, 105, 1159-1170.

Abstract. Field dependence is often associated with studies of cognitive style from Witkin’s laboratory but Piaget also considered the concept a fundamental factor in the development of visuoperceptual analysis.  Assessment has traditionally relied on two measures, the Rod-and-Frame Test and the Embedded Figures Test.  A new task was developed, based on the Rod-and-Frame Test, in which a target stimulus is drawn within a misleading frame.  Misleading frames significantly influenced the orientation of drawings created by 36 kindergarteners in Exp. 1, and the drawing of more complex stimulus figures was influenced by the frames for a group of 65 adults in Exp. 2.  Field-dependent behavior is related to the complexity of the task and to age.  The correlation of scores on the Embedded Figures Test with performance on this was low for both groups.

Carol Cote,
Oct 17, 2011, 4:25 AM