6 ways CVI impacts the reading process

Learn about our reading brain, the CVI brain, and how all kids with CVI have a right to a comprehensive path to literacy

A little boy reading on an Ipad

Our reading brain

Reading is yet another complex process that requires many areas in our brain to work together efficiently. We need many visual skills to read—for example, ocular motor functions such as shifting gaze and scanning, and good acuity and contrast sensitivity. We need our full visual fields, especially central vision, along with spatial awareness. To interpret print, we need to discriminate 2D forms and letters and understand how letters integrate to form words. And more deeply, we need to match visual representations to language, experience, and conceptual information.

How do the CVI visual behaviors affect the reading process?

We know that the CVI brain is a different neural network that can only handle a certain amount of visual information at once in order to look and recognize. Our visual system plays an essential role in reading.

For kids with CVI, some may have difficulty with:

Make no mistake: all children with CVI should participate in comprehensive literacy programs. Kids with CVI require the same opportunities to develop literacy skills presented in an assessment-driven way: methodical, intentional, and accessible. Literacy involves our understanding of symbols regardless of form; for kids with CVI, this can include objects, pictures, photographs, tactile symbols, or print/braille. As kids with CVI interact with the world around them in accessible ways, they learn more and more concepts. They can begin to attach meaning to words and to their world.

All children with CVI can be readers and writers—this will look different for each kid, but there’s always a way forward. We don’t have to wait until our kids have certain visual skills to start them on their path to literacy. Literacy is dynamic, multisensory, and ever-evolving.

Dive into 8 literacy resources for children with CVI that show various ideas and approaches to help develop literacy skills.

Explore a CVI Scotland in-depth lesson about CVI and literacy!


Benischek, A., Long, X., Rohr, C. S., Bray, S., Dewey, D., & Lebel, C. (2020). Pre-reading language abilities and the brain’s functional reading network in young children. NeuroImage, 217, 116903.

Dutton, G. & Lueck, A. (2015). Vision and the Brain: Understanding Cerebral Visual Impairment in Children. New York, New York: American Foundation for the Blind Press.

Schmithorst, V. J., Holland, S. K., & Plante, E. (2007). Object identification and lexical/semantic access in children: a functional magnetic resonance imaging study of word-picture matching. Human brain mapping, 28(10), 1060–1074.

Teach CVI (2017).  Tools for educators and health care providers. Retrieved from:

Wolf, M. (2008). Proust and the Squid: The story and science of the reading brain. New York: Harper Collins Perennial.

Girl wearing glasses and a bright pink top looks away from the table

CVI: Response Interval

a boy holds a red object

CVI: Visual recognition

A girl in classroom decorates an illuminated vase with a purple ribbon

CVI: Visual attention