The hidden hurdle: How visual motor and fine motor coordination deficits affect academic achievement

The Hidden Hurdle: How Visual Motor and Fine Motor Coordination Deficits Affect Academic Achievement

Posted by | Sep 5, 2023

Academic success is influenced by multiple cognitive, sensory, and motor skills. Among them, visual motor and fine motor coordination play pivotal roles in a student's ability to excel at academic tasks. These skills, often taken for granted, are essential for activities ranging from handwriting to reading and math. Research indicates that deficits in individual components of the visual motor integration system may underlie, at least in part, academic achievement difficulties for a large proportion of children diagnosed with a learning disability (Carames, Irwin, and Kofler, 2021). Fine motor coordination also appears to be a significant predictor of math ability, playing a pivotal role in the development of early math skills (Pitchford et al., 2016).

Understanding Visual Motor and Fine Motor Coordination

Visual motor coordination refers to our ability to integrate visual information with motor control, allowing us to perform tasks that involve eye-hand coordination. Fine motor coordination, on the other hand, involves precise control of small muscles in the hands and fingers for tasks like writing, drawing, and manipulating objects.

Visual motor and fine motor coordination deficits can manifest in various forms. These deficits can affect someone’s ability to perform everyday tasks, academic activities, and fine motor skills. Disabilities that are commonly associated with visual motor and fine motor coordination deficits include:

Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD): DCD, also known as dyspraxia, is a neurological disorder that affects the development of motor skills. People with DCD often struggle with activities that require coordinated movements, such as tying shoelaces, using utensils, or buttoning clothes. These difficulties can extend to academic tasks like handwriting and drawing.

Dysgraphia: Dysgraphia is a learning disability that specifically affects writing skills. Students with dysgraphia may have trouble with letter formation, spacing, sizing, and overall legibility of their handwriting. This can affect their ability to express themselves in writing and complete assignments that involve handwriting.

Dyslexia: Dyslexia is a common learning disability that primarily affects reading skills. While dyslexia is typically associated with difficulties in phonological processing and word recognition, it can also involve visual motor coordination deficits. People with dyslexia may struggle with tracking lines of text, leading to slower reading speed and comprehension issues.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that can affect attention, impulse control, and executive functions. Individuals with ADHD might exhibit challenges in fine motor coordination because of difficulties in sustaining attention and coordinating movements. This can affect tasks like handwriting and other fine motor activities.

Autism Spectrum Disorder: Some individuals with ASD may experience difficulties with motor coordination, including both fine and gross motor skills. Fine motor coordination deficits can affect tasks like tying shoelaces, manipulating objects, and even engaging in activities that require precise movements.

Sensory Processing Disorder: SPD refers to difficulties in processing and responding to sensory information from the environment. Individuals with SPD might struggle with motor planning and coordination because of challenges in processing sensory cues that guide movement.

Cerebral Palsy: Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that affect movement and muscle coordination. While it primarily involves difficulties in gross motor skills, fine motor coordination deficits can also be present, impacting tasks such as grasping objects, manipulating tools, and performing daily living activities.

Genetic and Neurological Disorders: Some genetic and neurological disorders, such as Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, and various genetic mutations, can lead to motor coordination deficits. These can vary in severity and may affect both fine and gross motor skills.

It’s important to note that these disabilities exist on a spectrum, and individuals may experience a combination of challenges related to motor coordination along with other cognitive, sensory, and social difficulties. Early identification, intervention, and tailored support are essential for helping individuals with these deficits overcome challenges and thrive in various aspects of life, including academics.

Effect on Reading Skills

Reading is a cornerstone of academic success, and its mastery relies heavily on visual motor and fine motor coordination skills. Consider the act of tracking words on a page while reading. A student with visual motor coordination deficits may struggle to smoothly move their eyes across the lines, leading to difficulty in tracking the text. This can slow down reading speed and comprehension. Furthermore, visual motor coordination is crucial for recognizing letters and words. Children with poor visual motor skills may struggle to discriminate between similar letters (such as B and D) or they may transpose letters within words, leading to spelling errors and reading difficulties.

Effect on Math Skills

Math is another subject deeply affected by visual motor and fine motor coordination. Think about the process of writing down complex mathematical equations or neatly aligning numbers in columns during addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. These tasks require precise fine motor control. Visual motor coordination is also vital in tasks like geometry and graphing. Students need to be able to draw shapes, lines, and graphs accurately, and that hinges on their ability to translate visual information into coordinated motor movements.

Effect on Written Language Skills

Written language skills encompass not only handwriting but also the ability to organize thoughts and ideas coherently on paper. Students with fine motor coordination deficits often struggle with handwriting. Illegible handwriting can impede communication of ideas, as educators and peers may find it challenging to decipher the written work. Additionally, the process of expressing thoughts in writing requires the brain to simultaneously manage fine motor skills and higher-order cognitive processes. When fine motor coordination is compromised, students may struggle to keep up with their thoughts, leading to disjointed and poorly structured writing.

Contributors to Underachievement

Students who struggle with visual motor and fine motor coordination may experience frustration and a sense of inadequacy. Over time, that frustration can lead to disengagement from academic tasks, as they may associate learning with difficulty and disappointment.

Poor fine motor coordination can limit a student's writing output. In classroom settings, this translates into shorter essays, fewer completed assignments, and limited participation in written discussions.

Visual motor coordination deficits can also result in inaccuracies in assignments. In math, a slight misalignment of numbers can lead to incorrect calculations. In reading, tracking errors can cause misinterpretation of the text.

Difficulties in tracking words and letters can hinder reading comprehension. Students may spend so much cognitive effort on decoding words that they struggle to understand the overall meaning of the text.

Addressing the Issue

While visual motor and fine motor coordination deficits can present significant challenges, there are strategies and interventions that can help mitigate their impact on academic achievement:

Occupational Therapy: Occupational therapists are trained to assess and address fine motor and visual motor coordination difficulties. Individualized therapy sessions can improve handwriting, hand strength, and coordination.

Technology Integration: Assistive technologies, such as speech-to-text software and digital note-taking tools, can alleviate the burden of handwriting. This allows students to focus on generating ideas without being impeded by motor difficulties.

Multisensory Learning: Incorporating multisensory activities into the curriculum can help students reinforce their learning through various sensory modalities. For instance, tracing letters in sand or drawing shapes on textured surfaces can engage multiple senses and improve memory retention.

Modified Assignments: Teachers can modify assignments to accommodate students who have fine motor challenges. Allowing typed assignments or providing additional time to complete writing-intensive tasks can level the playing field.

With the right interventions, support, and understanding, students can overcome their challenges with visual motor and fine motor coordination and thrive academically. At Evoke Learning, our online math, writing, and reading tutors work with students who have these deficits to help them develop and apply strategies and identify accommodations that empower them to reach their full potential. Contact us to learn more about our programs and services.

For a deeper dive into the topic of visual motor and fine motor coordination deficits and their effect on academic achievement, the following books may be helpful:

Disconnected Kids by Dr. Robert Melillo

This book explores how underlying brain imbalances can lead to various learning difficulties, including issues related to motor coordination.

The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun by Carol Kranowitz

While not directly about academic achievement, this book provides a wealth of fun and engaging activities designed to enhance sensory and motor skills in children.

Handwriting Without Tears by Jan Olsen

Geared specifically toward educators and parents, this resource offers effective strategies for teaching handwriting to children with varying motor skill levels.

Smart but Scattered by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare

While not focused solely on motor skills, this book delves into executive function difficulties that often coexist with motor coordination challenges.


Evoke has been absolutely essential to the academic success of all three of our children. Evoke’s skilled staff and tutors were able to assess and remediate gaps and challenges that... read more

Laura Harvey Avatar Laura Harvey
November 17, 2023

Vic has been an amazing support for our teen. I catch bits of their sessions together and Vic is so compassionate, engaging, practical and intentional. Our teen truly... read more

Bruce Sellery Avatar Bruce Sellery
October 22, 2023

This tutoring has been a game changer for my son. The staff are fabulous; kind and patient with him and his learning needs. Highly recommend! And we love Lea!

Amanda Tulk-O'Reilly Avatar Amanda Tulk-O'Reilly
October 6, 2022

My son was diagnosed with ADHD-Combined, and we were very fortunate to discover Evoke Learning. Over the past 1.5 years, Evoke Learning has been instrumental in helping my... read more

JT Avatar JT
April 6, 2022

I worked with Richard at Evoke over several months and he was immensely helpful. Besides being professional and effective, Richard was very compassionate and empathetic. During my time working with... read more

Bree Avatar Bree
April 6, 2022

My son was diagnosed with ADHD plus an LD and he was having difficulty with his high school classes. After searching for tutors for my son and coming up... read more

Trecia Downes Avatar Trecia Downes
April 6, 2022

Our experience with Evoke has been fantastic. Everyone from the administrative staff, to the assessment staff to the tutors are incredible professional, and knowledgeable. The virtual experience was great, my... read more

Anne-Marie Gabrini Avatar Anne-Marie Gabrini
April 6, 2022

My name is Jessica and I’ve had Richard as my academic coach for the last 1.5 years. I am completing my Master’s and as someone with ADHD, I was very... read more

Kimberley Gemmell Avatar Kimberley Gemmell
April 6, 2022

I went to Evoke for several months for ADHD counselling. I had Richard Comeau, who was unbelievably helpful with improving my work ethic, organizational skills, motivation, and note taking/studying strategies.... read more

Evan Applebaum Avatar Evan Applebaum
April 6, 2022

The reading program at Evoke helped me feel empowered and strengthen my reading. This program truly has impacted my life in such a positive way. This program not only helped... read more

Vanessa Garritano Avatar Vanessa Garritano
April 6, 2022

I had the chance to work with Richard this year on improving my learning skills and over that time I've become a different person with a completely different mindset on... read more

Naomi Tomeo Avatar Naomi Tomeo
April 6, 2022

My 14 year old son has been working with Andrew for a couple of years to get help with math and science and he loves it so much my 16... read more

Dorothy Steel Avatar Dorothy Steel
April 6, 2022

I worked with Richard at Evoke over several months and he was immensely helpful. Besides being professional and effective, Richard was very compassionate and empathetic. During my time working with... read more

Bree Lawrence Avatar Bree Lawrence
November 22, 2021

I feel so much gratitude for the services of Evoke Learning. Our child developed reading skills during our time with Evoke which was a huge milestone. Dollar for... read more

Lee May Nikoletos Avatar Lee May Nikoletos
April 6, 2021

A friend recommended Evoke after I shared concerns with my daughter’s reading development. She had used Evoke more than five years ago and still raves about the positive impact for... read more

Shalini Mitchell Avatar Shalini Mitchell
April 6, 2021

I have nothing but positive things to say about our Evoke Learning experience. From the initial phone call, to the intake meeting to, in our instance, the weekly sessions, there... read more

Mike Dietrich Avatar Mike Dietrich
April 6, 2021

Kate is quite possibly the most helpful person I have worked with in the 20+ years of managing my ADHD. She is down to earth, intelligent, compassionate and truly incredible... read more

Emmett Johnston Avatar Emmett Johnston
April 6, 2021

I had the pleasure of being mentored by Richard. He taught me how to maximize my school performance, and to learn how to work with my ADHD and learning... read more

Cameron Oland Avatar Cameron Oland
April 6, 2021

I’ve had nothing but positive experiences at Evoke, having worked with two of their coaches (Aaron and Richard). With their professionalism, kindness, and expertise, I’ve been making real progress on... read more

C. James Avatar C. James
April 6, 2021

Our daughter has learning disabilities and ADHD. When she began having difficulties during university, Kate Lloyd was recommended. Kate’s counselling was excellent and enabled our daughter to graduate... read more

Marilyn Gillespie Avatar Marilyn Gillespie
April 6, 2020

I have been working with Evoke Learning for my ADHD for about five years. Before I started working with my tutor I was having a lot of difficulties at school... read more

Keegan Gardner-Elmer Avatar Keegan Gardner-Elmer
April 6, 2020

As a Mom of a student with learning disabilities, I highly recommend the coaching and tutoring services of Denise Harding and the staff at both the Evoke Learning Aurora and... read more

Glenna Davis Avatar Glenna Davis
April 6, 2020

****5 STARS HANDS DOWN!!!!**** Kate Lloyd, the owner of Evoke Learning- is one of the most amazing and outstanding human beings that I have ever met in my life.... read more

Malaika Jackson Avatar Malaika Jackson
April 6, 2020

It is difficult to sum up how much Evoke’s services have helped me to reach my goals and realize my full potential at university and beyond. From my in-person coaching... read more

Carli G Avatar Carli G
April 6, 2020

I have been using Evoke's services for the past two years while being in university. I have to say, Kate (the owner) has gone ABOVE and BEYOND for me! She... read more

Hailey Merten Avatar Hailey Merten
April 6, 2020

I worked with Evoke's learning for helping my niece. She wanted to be in the baseball team and we weren't ready to allow her as she is an ADHD kid.... read more

Linda Wells Avatar Linda Wells
April 6, 2020

We have made Evoke our go-to resource for several years. One of our children had been diagnosed with a learning difference and ADHD, in grade three, and needed a support... read more

Anouchka Freybe Avatar Anouchka Freybe
April 6, 2020

I had the pleasure of working as a coach and mentor at Evoke Learning. I was very impressed with the quality of training I received by Kate Lloyd, and have... read more

Uzma Abdullah Avatar Uzma Abdullah
April 6, 2020

I would give 10 stars if I could! Kate Lloyd is amazing at what she does. I had always struggled to take tests through University and Graduate school so... read more

Jaclyn Clarkson Avatar Jaclyn Clarkson
April 6, 2020

I hired Evoke Learning to help coach and organize my child when he went off to university. They did an excellent job and were very professional with their services, invoicing,... read more

Diana Lawrence Avatar Diana Lawrence
April 6, 2020

We have had the greatest pleasure of Learning about Evoke. They have been phenomenal working along with my daughter. Denise was a great mentor for my daughter... read more

Daniela Saker Avatar Daniela Saker
April 6, 2020

My daughter has been with Evoke Learning and with the academic coaching program for two years. In that time, I can say that she’s really become much stronger in her... read more

Lily McClelland Avatar Lily McClelland
April 6, 2020

Great coaching services for students with ADHD and/or executive function deficits. Denise is organized, structured and holds her clients accountable for their 'homework'. I highly recommend Evoke to parents who... read more

B “onekgirl” K Avatar B “onekgirl” K
April 6, 2020

I can say both my boys used Evoke Learning to sharpen their study skills and benefitted from the coaching they received. I would recommend Evoke Learning when a child needs... read more

Lily Polemidiotis Avatar Lily Polemidiotis
April 6, 2020

My Son Marco has been going to Evoke for English and Math, and we are so happy with his progress. He has worked with Bridgitt and Mohammed and they... read more

Amy Gesualdo Avatar Amy Gesualdo
April 6, 2020