Now that you have a diagnosis, you probably have questions. Is CVI permanent? Is CVI curable? Here’s what we know: While Cortical Visual Impairment/Cerebral Visual Impairment (CVI) can’t be completely cured, appropriate educational supports might help. In fact, plenty can be done with the hope of improving your child’s vision. Here are some key things to keep in mind:
- CVI can evolve over time. The brain can develop new connections to overcome any initial injury or deficit and improve function due to neuroplasticity. This means that as your child is exposed to visual information matched to their assessed visual abilities, she can develop new brain connections to improve function. Each brain is unique, and it’s hard to predict future visual function, but remember: Many kids have improved vision with intervention in educational programming.
- Ocular visual impairment is different from CVI. Ocular visual impairment refers to a problem with the eye. CVI is a neurological visual impairment. It refers to brain-based vision loss. It’s defined as significant visual dysfunction caused by injury to visual pathways and structures, which happens before birth, after birth and with brain injury. The eyes might work properly, but your child has trouble processing what they see. That’s why it’s so important to understand how the brain functions and adapts when researching how to address CVI.
- Effective treatment can often lead to noticeable improvement. Effective treatment relies on a thorough CVI assessment of functional vision. Educational programming considers strengths and weaknesses and provides adaptations for accessible learning. There are many promising practices surrounding CVI in the educational field, however, there is a growing need for evidence of impact based on research.
- Neuroplasticity is a promising area of research. Neuroplasticity describes the brain’s unique ability to change its structural and functional organization. Remember, the eyes of a child with CVI are sometimes healthy and see normally. However, the brain can’t process what’s being seen. Lots of research is being done to examine how the brain adapts to and compensates for this damage.
As you begin to research CVI, you might hear the term “neuroplasticity” a lot. It’s a key topic as researchers investigate how to treat CVI. “Neuro” references the brain, and “plasticity” derives from plastikos, a Greek word that means to change or mold. Just as plastic can be changed under certain conditions, the brain’s structure and functions can change, too. Your child’s brain is constantly forming new connections as it interacts with the environment. Neuroplasticity occurs throughout our lives, however, when kids are young, the brain is especially receptive to change. This is important, because if we understand how brains adapt in relation to CVI, we can learn how to better educate kids with CVI. It’s also why early intervention is so important.
The promise of virtual reality
Researchers such as Chris Bennett and Dr. Lotfi Merabet are using virtual reality to help test how kids with CVI respond to simulated real-world situations, such as walking down a crowded hallway or reaching for a toy in a toy box. In a virtual environment, researchers can control for things that they can’t in the real world, such as light, color and clutter, helping to pinpoint which environmental modifications might help kids to see better.
What parents can do
You might feel helpless in the face of a CVI diagnosis. It’s natural. But there’s so much that you can do to help your child with CVI to engage all of his or her senses, from walks in the park to blowing bubbles in the backyard. Help them interact with their environment in as many ways as you can. This builds resilience and confidence as he or she explores the world; it also stimulates senses such as touch, smell and sound. Multi-sensory information presented in an accessible manner will support children in connecting these sensory experiences and the building of concepts required for future learning. As Harvard’s Merabet says, “The more the child is engaged and interactive with their environment, the more likely the brain is going to develop and change.”
Go deeper into the neuroscience of CVI in our Q&A with Dr. Lotfi Merabet