6 ways CVI impacts the reading process

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

Boy with CVI sitting on a comfy chair and reading the word "kitchen" on the 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:

  • Visual recognition of letters and words—learning to recognize 2D symbols and print, and the act of reading print/2D symbols are visually demanding for many kids with CVI.
  • Clutter and crowding on a page—reading a page of text with lots of letters, words, lines of text, or pictures overloads the reader’s neural network, making it hard to use vision. A cluttered page can also affect the ability to scan, read along a line of text, and maintain the place on the page. 
  • Sensory integration—reading is a challenging visual task, so any competing noise and distractions in the environment can negatively affect vision use. For example, trying to learn to read new words or symbols in a noisy classroom or during instruction.
  • Background clutter—the reader may have difficulty trying to visually attend to words on a page while in a room with a lot of visual clutter. 
  • Visual field loss—a reader may completely miss portions of text, words, or pictures.
  • Visual access at a distance—children with CVI may miss the concepts learned through observation or incidental learning. Concept development is literacy, or knowing what the word means based on experience. 

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. 

References: 

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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2020.116903

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. https://doi.org/10.1002/hbm.20328

Teach CVI (2017).  Tools for educators and health care providers. Retrieved from: https://www.teachcvi.net

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