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What is Perceptual Development?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Perceptual development is an aspect of cognitive development that allows a young human being to start interpreting and understanding sensory input. In the first year of life, it proceeds extremely rapidly. As many parents are undoubtedly well aware, development occurs in leaps and bounds for many children at this age as they engage with the world around them and learn more about what they touch, see, smell, hear, and taste. Perceptual development is the reason that psychologists and people who study child development recommend providing children with stimulus-rich environments.

The process of perceptual development is very closely linked to motor development. For example, as infants grow, they begin to be able to support their heads on their own, and to turn their heads so that their eyes can scan their environment. Likewise, the ability to crawl and later walk allows opportunities for purposeful engagement with the surrounding world. For example, as an infant develops manual dexterity, she or he can start to manipulate objects such as rattles and balls.

Some aspects of perception are hardwired and start to manifest shortly after birth. Others, however, need to be refined or developed. For example, newborns do not have very good vision. Within weeks, however, they start to discern between different patterns, experience sharpening and improvement in color vision, and can track movements. Being surrounded with enriching materials such as brightly colored mobiles and patterned toys encourages this development in infants.

These changes are one of the things tracked by pediatricians over the course of a series of well baby and child appointments that are designed to identify developmental problems as early as possible. If a child's development does not follow the patterns established through study and observation of other children, it can be an indicator that the child has an impairment. For example, a child who does not respond to auditory stimuli or who is inconsistent about responding to it may have a hearing impairment or an auditory processing disorder.

Parents can create an environment that stimulates and promotes perceptual development in their children. Providing children with varied sensory input allows them to establish and develop neural pathways that will be used for life. Activities ranging from singing to children to snuggling with them can be beneficial, as can providing them with tools for enrichment, such as toys, artworks, and simple opportunities to engage with the environment and with other living beings, from adult humans to household pets.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By ysmina — On Apr 11, 2011

@alisha-- I had read in a journal article before that playing with a toddler in a way that promotes an activity of some kind is a great way to help with perceptual and cognitive development.

I agree with this because I have experienced it first hand with my son. We always have play time during the day and we play different games, read books or listen to songs. I think that trying a variety of different activities and letting your toddler discover and be active is key for development.

I see development in him every single day. The other day, he did the most surprising thing. My husband couldn't find one of his story books and my son has a lot of them. So my husband was searching the house and also asked my son if he knew where this book was, referring to it by name.

My son walked over to one of the couches and found the book underneath! He knew exactly which book my husband was talking about and my son is not even two yet.

So my recommendation is to spend time with your daughter, try and find different kinds of activities and games for her to engage with as she grows. And let her discover and make connections on her own. I have friends who are so scared about their kid falling or hurting themselves and they limit their activity inside the house and outside. I don't think that's very good for their development.

By discographer — On Apr 09, 2011

My daughter is seven months and several family friends suggested that I enroll in a brain development program for her. The program I'm considering has classes for mothers and they teach moms different exercises and games that they can play with their child.

Their website says that these exercises can be started immediately after birth and helps the child's perceptual development. I think the exercises are mainly focused on helping the child make connections between objects, words, emotions and also to improve memory and motor skills.

It sounds like a great program but I want to ask parents that have used such programs if they really see a big difference in their child's development?

I always thought that early child development was the combination of genetics and environment, so I do think that every child is born with his or her limits. Of course, we should do everything possible to help them develop as much as possible.

But are these brain development programs really worth the investment? What are some other options for ways I can help my child's development? I'd really appreciate some feedback, so please do share.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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