The Importance of Drawing

What are we looking for when we ask your child to draw us a picture of a person?

During your child’s first and final assessment, we ask your child to complete a task called the Goodenough Draw – A person. This task was initially developed by a psychologist named Florence Goodenough from the University of Minnesota to create a measurement of intelligence in younger children where language, general knowledge or additional reading /writing skills were not required to complete the test.  Goodenough and other psychologists over the years have maintained that “the nature and content of children’s drawings are dependent primarily upon intellectual development” (Leher, H. 2014). That they reflect something fundamental about how we make sense of the world and how this is expressed is an act of intelligence that develops with age and cognitive ability (Lehrer, H. 2014).  Given many of our clients have language and processing struggles, this task enables us an insight into many areas that may be fundamentally affecting the client’s ability to learn in a school environment.

Your child will be asked to draw a person as there is a standard expectation of what a realistic drawing of a person should include, e.g., Head, body, arms, legs etc. If we asked your child to draw a picture, there would be no way to quantify the criteria of the drawing, and it would be a judgment of artistic ability.  At TDT we are observing the following areas when we watch your child undertake this task it is as much about the process as the final picture.

Language Processing

First is your able to listen to and understand the instruction “to draw your best picture of a person”.  Do they need the instruction repeated more than once? Do they need a detailed explanation or demonstration before they can start the task?  If they do, this gives us an insight that there are some struggles in processing language and instructions.

Through getting your child to talk about the details in their picture, we are also able to assess their spoken language skills.

Visual Perception

Researchers have shown that people who have difficulties in drawing to scale or making realistic representations of objects or people may not be seeing the world as it really is (Wolchover, N 2012). Visual perception allows our brains to process attributes such as size, shape, distance and colour. When there are difficulties in visual perception, then the skill of drawing a person with the correct ratios of head/trunk/arms/legs becomes very difficult or impossible.  Developmentally a child with a younger mental age will draw a big head with arms and legs as they develop and their visual systems mature, they can draw a head and body/legs and arms in proportion to each other.

Being able to recognise in their drawing that their head is significantly bigger than their body and being able to compare this to the reality of the human form is also a cognitively sophisticated process that requires multiple levels of connection and wiring in the brain. Through looking at their drawings, we can start to make a basic mental map of where connections need to be strengthened.

Visual perception struggles are going to have long term effects on a child’s ability to read, write, negotiate their body in space and be coordinated in their movements.

Executive Functioning

When we observe your child while they are undertaking a drawing task we are given lots of information about their Executive Function which is controlled by the frontal cortex of the brain and is the last area of the brain to wire up. If there are apparent struggles in executive function, this shows that there are areas in the other cortex such as auditory and visual that need to be strengthened before there will be any growth in executive functions.

Working Memory

Working memory is the ability to remember and recall relevant information while in the middle of an activity.  During this task we are looking at a child’s ability to stay focused on their task, we are looking at a child’s ability to recognise and remember the features that need to be included on a picture of a person.  Working memory struggles lead to difficulties in planning, reflecting and making relevant changes.

Planning includes working out where to start drawing the picture, drawing the head or the feet first. Reflecting consists of the ability to look and see what is missing, e.g. a nose or hands and being able to add them in. All of the stages of production are only possible if the child has a solid picture and understanding in their mind of what a person’s body is made up of.   The child’s self-awareness of their own body as well as what they see on others is fundamental to building this mental picture in the brain.

A child with a sound executive function would almost subconsciously plan how they would draw the picture almost seamlessly as they are drawing it. Look at the picture and realise they have forgotten eyebrows or ears.

For children with processing struggles the cognitive load of undertaking a task such as drawing can be significant. We watch for signs of cognitive load such a child holding their breath or poking their tongue out. We watch the way they try to self-regulate this load by wriggling their bodies or tapping their feet under the table. If we see these behaviours in the drawing task, we can understand that the load in the classroom would be significantly greater when your child is being asked to read, write or do maths. All of the everyday tasks of education rely on a child to have competent executive function.

Last but not least, the drawing task enables us to observe your child’s fine motor skills, their hand dominance and their bilateral integration. All of which are fundamental to be a successful writer and having a brain that is integrated with secure connections across the hemispheres.   We look at pencil grip and the amount of pressure they are using whether they turn the page when they are drawing. If they can make the different sections of the body, joined in the correct places, and are they able to add fine details with reasonable control of the pencil.

With all of this said the reason we are so happy when we see growth in your child’s drawings is because this is evidence of growth in your child’s brain and neural pathways.

Initially he has no hair, hands or feet. A simplistic face with no pupils or teeth, but with buttons on his shirt. The time of the drawing he was 7 years 4 months old. He scored – 5 years 9 months.

These Pictures were Drawn by the Same Child

Initially he has no hair, hands or feet. A simplistic face with no pupils or teeth, but with buttons on his shirt. The time of the drawing he was 7 years 4 months old. He scored – 5 years 9 months.

Just some 9 months later he produces a picture with eye lashes, pupils, teeth, hands and feet. Although he had to be reminded to draw arms. He drew the hands with no prompting. (He has not finished his therapies) He scored 6 years 9 months.

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