Advocating for a team approach to CVI

Children with CVI possess a broad range of abilities, and they should have a specific and adaptable team to help them navigate their visual impairment.

Learning how to spell with CVI means the right teacher and the right environment.

Building your child’s CVI-focused educational team can be incredibly overwhelming. You’ve fought hard for a diagnosis. You’re probably frustrated and exhausted with the whole process. The good news, with the right team in place, your child will benefit from the right visual materials and educational programming matched to their assessment results and might improve their visual attention and visual recognition to learn more effectively. A child diagnosed with Cortical Visual Impairment/Cerebral Visual Impairment (CVI) has many needs, and a multi-disciplinary approach is so important. 

Why CVI Is different

Kids with CVI are a diverse group with a broad range of abilities. They may:

  • Seem not to use their visual skills at all
  • Read at grade level
  • Use a cane for travel
  • Communicate verbally
  • Use a communication device
  • Appear to be looking, but can’t interpret what they see
  • Seem to have cognitive challenges, when they actually have a disability of access, because they can’t perceive visual information in their world 

Kids with CVI require specific modifications and adaptations to access the common core curriculum. Additionally, all children with visual impairments require inclusion of the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC). As a parent, you know your child best. Here’s how to compile the most effective, collaborative team for your child using IFSPs and IEPs.​

Top three IFSP and IEP considerations

What’s the difference between IFSP and IEP?

We understand that these acronyms can be confusing. The Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) is a legally mandated document covered under the Individuals With Disabilities Act (IDEA), used for early intervention for children from birth to their third birthday. It’s often described as a road map for early intervention. It lays out the services your baby or toddler should receive, taking into account your family’s individual needs. Team members often include a doctor, child development specialist, therapists and social worker.

An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is designed to ensure that a child with a disability identified by law receives specialized instruction and related services in public schools past age three. Students with IEPs are also protected by IDEA. An IEP outlines your child’s service plan, supports, team members and placements. 

Both documents should be individualized to meet your child’s unique needs. 

Keep in mind that they’re different from 504 plans, which ensure that a child with a disability gets school accommodations to ensure that they have access to the learning environment. Just making changes to materials or to your environment won’t fill the gaps in a child’s learning when they have a visual impairment. An IEP, not a 504, is recommended to help fill those learning gaps. 

Still feeling a bit confused? Learn more about IEPs versus 504 plans on Understood.org.

These Individualized Education Plans should be:

  • Specific. They should include your child’s CVI visual behaviors, precise interventions, strategies and goals, through the lens of visual impairment. An effective plan precisely addresses how these services will be delivered.
  • Intentional. Accommodations should be targeted to CVI. How will your child visually engage in specific activities throughout the day? This should be outlined in your child’s IEP.
  • Adaptive. Kids with CVI get fatigued easily. An effective plan addresses how to incorporate proper adaptations in routines and schedules to maximize your child’s concentration and energy.

Role of each team member

Your child is unique, and their team should be too. Kids with CVI have a complex set of needs; each team member has his or her own specialization and should work collectively to address your child’s needs. While your child’s team composition might vary a bit, here are several common roles:

Parent

You have an essential role on your child’s team. You know your child best and deeply understand how and what your child struggles to learn.

Classroom teacher

The role of your child’s classroom teacher may vary depending on the school. They will often be your primary point of contact. He/she may coordinate your child’s IEP and will integrate your child’s programming into the classroom routines and activities, often in conjunction with a teaching assistant or paraprofessional.

Early Intervention/Developmental specialist

If your child is under age 3, you may also have an Early Interventionist on the team. These trained professionals work with kids from birth to age 3 to address developmental delays and often help coordinate the team.

Teacher of the visually impaired 

A teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) has training in assessing and instructing students who are blind or visually impaired. Assessments, such as functional vision assessments or learning media assessments, drive accommodations and student instruction. TVIs understand the issues of inaccessibility for a child with a visual impairment and have training in the incorporation of the Expanded Core Curriculum. Your child’s TVI also maintains teaching strategies for visually impaired children using all senses and can support the team in implementing these individualized strategies for educational programming and evaluations. They ensure that instruction and testing is accessible and all results seen in the context of your child’s visual impairment.

Occupational therapist

An occupational therapist maximizes your child’s functional abilities for everyday activities through adaptive equipment. He/she develops strategies to integrate your child’s independent skills into school activities as well as activities to address sensory systems.

Speech pathologist (SLP)

The SLP works with your child to develop language skills to boost academic success, social participation and advocacy. SLPs also may support the team by interpreting your child’s communicative intent, skills and comprehension.

Orientation and Mobility (O&M) specialist 

An O&M specialist works with the team to help maintain a safe, meaningful environment for your child. Responsibilities may include facilitating your child’s navigation in a classroom setting and incorporating specialized equipment as needed to support function and mobility.

Physical therapist

A physical therapist works to maintain or increase your child’s physical abilities. This often includes, but is not limited to, addressing strength, balance, coordination and range of motion and implementing specialized equipment to support mobility as needed. The physical therapist often works with the O&M specialist.

Technology specialist

A technology specialist will consult with you and the team regarding specialized assistive technologies for your child, such as communication devices, screen readers and text magnification software.

A teacher holds a light up to a student's face

Appropriate Assessments and Service Delivery

Kids with visual impairments benefit from ongoing essential assessments that provide access to the common core (standard academic) curriculum, as well as the ECC, which includes things like assistive technology.

These assessments can include:

These assessments will also influence your child’s placement and cadence for receiving services. 

Your child’s placement might be:

  • In a mainstream general education classroom, your child may receive services in the classroom with their peers. In this setting, children benefit from direct instruction with support from a teaching assistant responsible for modifications or accommodations in instruction. When applicable, the classroom teacher may co-teach with an interpreter for students with deafness. 
  • In a resource room for a smaller portion of the day for students who receive special education services and need intensive supports. The number of minutes your child spends in a resource class is written in the IEP.
  • In the self-contained programs where the student receives services outside of the general education classroom for more than half the day. 

Services for students with visual impairments are typically delivered by a TVI who travels from school to school, either in a general education classroom or in a private setting. The TVI may provide direct service and/or consultation depending on the service delivery. The amount of time the TVI spends in the classroom for direct and consult services is written in the IEP.

Service Delivery

  • Direct service: The TVI provides the student with direct service around the components of the ECC and to “fill” the learning gaps for the inaccessible incidental learning that is missing due to the visual impairment. 
  • Consult service: The TVI consults with all the team members to ensure the accessibility of all learning and all testing.

Remember that although your child’s CVI diagnosis might seem daunting, there’s help available. CVI research and interventions are continually evolving. Many parents create IEP binders to help track communication and updates with the team. With the right transdisciplinary team in place, your child can grow and learn effectively.