CVI: Impact of Clutter

Learn about how clutter is a huge barrier to access for CVI, what this assessment area looks at, and general ideas for accommodations.

Written by: Rachel Bennett

Access the video transcript.

At Perkins, we are a gathering place of ideas. The CVI visual behaviors synthesize current research and build on the work of leading theorists in the field. CVI is a lifelong disability and we want to ensure that all individuals with CVI are fully understood. The CVI visual behaviors are an ongoing need, they can change and they can improve for some, but the need never goes away. No one area is separated from the other—the CVI visual behaviors are highly connected and all can impact the individual with CVI at any time.

What is the Impact of Clutter?

  • An individual’s ability to attend to, recognize, and/or navigate materials or environments with varying levels of visual clutter.
  • Clutter is one of the greatest barriers to access for people with CVI. 
  • The more visual clutter, the more to look at, switch between, and ignore, making visual attention difficult or near impossible. More visual stimuli mean the more the brain needs to ignore and rule out and the more visual search that’s required. 

People with CVI may: 

  • have difficulty with visual attention and recognition with clutter, when objects are spaced too closely, or with an unpredictable arrangement 
  • have a hard time with visual sorting and perception, and when lots of items compete for their attention, it’s even harder to focus. 
  • only be able to see one thing at a time; this is known as simultanagnosia
  • be able to better see an object against a simple backdrop
  • perceive closely grouped objects as a single object
  • not be able to distinguish an object from others in the background (figure-ground)

This clutter, combined with the overload of other sensory information, such as the constant noise, movement and smells of a classroom full of students, meant that I spent the whole school day feeling anxious and on edge. Being in these cluttered environments was also exhausting and I soon learnt, that the only way I was going to survive each day, was if I allowed myself some quiet time during break times. These solitary time outs ended up becoming one of my most important strategies for dealing with the anxiety, confusion and fatigue my visual issues created.” 

Nicola McDowell’s Blog (20): The war on cluttered classrooms

What are some compensatory strategies related to the Impact of Clutter?

People with CVI may use compensatory strategies (color-coding, memory, prediction, context, tactile, auditory) to find items in clutter. When the world is essentially cluttered for a person with CVI, it’s important to encourage the use of compensatory strategies to help reduce fatigue and support their choices for how they want to access their world.

Some with CVI may:

A lot of kids with CVI we work with tell us about the frustration they experience, the sensitivity to clutter, and how exhausted they are at the end of the day. We think this is because their visual system is not as efficient as it should be—the brains of individuals with CVI have to work harder to carry out visual tasks that may be very simple to someone else.

Dr. Lotfi Merabet

What are some look fors/questions when observing your child with CVI?

“If [an object] was mixed in with a bunch of things? Yeah, I could figure it out, but it’d be harder to recognize what I’m looking for.”

 -Aidan, teenager with CVI

What are some examples of adaptations and accommodations? 

All accommodations must be based on individual assessments. The following are meant to inspire and provide a general idea. Accommodations and instructional approaches must be student-specific. Access is individual. 

Examples from a guide to common CVI IEP accommodations:

I have trouble seeing in crowded areas.

Krish, elementary student with CVI

Following the science

Connecting current research on the brain, our visual system, and CVI to better understand the CVI visual behaviors.

Learn more about the development of the Perkins CVI Protocol.