Cerebral palsy and CVI explained

Research shows that CVI is common in children with cerebral palsy (CP). Learn how CVI looks in kids with CP, plus find tools and resources.

Aidan rolls down a sidewalk in his wheelchair next to an adult.

Statistics and research about CVI and cerebral palsy

Many people with CVI also have cerebral palsy (CP). In fact, 65 percent of kids with CVI also have CP. 

CP is the most common lifelong motor disability. It affects muscle tone, posture, and movement as a result of damage to an infant’s developing brain, though it can also be congenital. Symptoms can change with growth and development; CP doesn’t get worse over time.

Overall, children with CP have higher rates of vision impairment than children without it. One recent study examined 419 children with CP; in that group, 66.5 percent had some degree of vision impairment, and 11 percent had severe visual impairment. Multiple research studies show that 60-70% of kids with CP also have CVI. 

Preliminary data indicates that people with CP are three times more likely to have visual impairments and as many as 87% of people with CP may have the visual perception dysfunction attributed to CVI.

Cerebral Visual Impairment and CP, Cerebral Palsy Research Network

How CVI and cerebral palsy overlap

CP is a movement disorder, and vision is a crucial part of movement. Visual impairment can have a significant effect on motor development and skills, such as sitting, crawling, and walking. Many people with CVI have difficulty with visual-motor skills, such as reaching while maintaining visual fixation on an item or navigating changes in depth. 

Kids with both CP and CVI develop self-care, mobility, and social function skills more slowly than children with CP without CVI. Kids with more severe CP may also have a greater reduction in visual acuity (sharpness or clarity).

“My own personal education journey has not been easy. I was born with cerebral palsy, a disability resulting from damage to the brain before, during, or shortly after birth. Because it is difficult for my brain to send signals to the rest of my body, processes like muscular coordination and speech are affected. I was also diagnosed with Cerebral/Cortical Visual Impairment, which had a huge impact on how I was able to interact with the rest of the world around me. However, my CVI diagnosis did not come until I was eight.”

Lewis “LJ” Seiff, a middle school student with CVI and CP

Does my child with CP also have CVI?

Currently, vision and visual processing are not yet routinely screened for when children are diagnosed with cerebral palsy. One study showed that young children with CP may show more noticeable signs of CVI compared with older ones. Early detection is essential.

Here are specific signs to look for with respect to visual skills if you suspect CVI.

Your child might:

Learn more about how CVI affects skill development beyond vision.

If your child with CP displays these behaviors, it’s important to consider CVI. Often, a CP diagnosis can mask a CVI diagnosis, but they frequently co-exist. CVI remains poorly understood, but we’re working hard to change that through education and advocacy.

Educational tools and access for kids with CVI and CP

Children with CVI and CP can learn in the right environment. Access is everything! Kids with CVI and CP need:

In particular, understanding visual guidance of the upper and lower limbs can help caregivers better understand both the motoric challenges of CP and the visual challenges related to CVI. 

“In fact, CVI and CP are common together. It makes sense: When there’s a disruption or an injury to a developing brain, it will have an impact on movement, coordination, speech, vision, hearing, and more. Just like we have early interventions designed to harness neuroplasticity in the early years of brain development for movement, the role of the TVI should be to harness that same neuroplasticity to create new pathways to help the child learn to see.”

Jen Lyman, mom to 19-year-old Bower, who has CVI and CP

O&M can help kids with CVI and CP:

Learn more about the importance of O&M for incidental learning, advocacy, and independence.

Resources from the CP community

Next steps