CVI: Visual curiosity and incidental learning

Learn about CVI’s impact on visual curiosity and incidental learning, how this area looks at the collective impact of the CVI behaviors, explore some observable behaviors and compensatory skills, general ideas for accommodations, and current research.

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 area of visual curiosity?

This area is the culmination of the collective impact of all the CVI visual behaviors on the difficulty or inability to access incidental learning (or learning from observing the world around you). Many with CVI have difficulty being visually aware of their full surroundings, both at near and at a distance. Vision is a distance sense, where those who are sighted don’t have to physically engage with something in order to observe it and learn from it. Vision is used to verify what’s beyond arm’s reach. When vision becomes reduced, so does incidental access to information and learning. 

Some with CVI may:

Important: Incidental learning often is limited, but that doesn’t mean learning is limited. There are many instructional strategies to make information available: multi-sensory learning, direct instruction, variation in learning media (visual, auditory, tactual), changes to the environment, and supporting sensory efficiency and compensatory strategies. 

I found it difficult to absorb information at a distance simply because much of the distinctiveness was lost. The main things I could absorb at a distance were plain landscapes, like a gray sky on a cloudy day, which I found comforting (more so than on a sunny day because the light was too overwhelming)… The distance was the coconut base to a rich curry dish—it was sort of there, but also mostly wasn’t there. It flew under my awareness and didn’t jump out over the spicy vegetables enough to inspire curiosity.

Nai Damato, The CVI Perspective

What are some compensatory strategies related to visual curiosity and the difficulty with visually accessing the surrounding environment?

People with CVI have strategies and workarounds for so much in their daily lives. When accessing incidental learning and items in all fields of view and at a distance, many with CVI rely on their compensatory skills. 

Some people with CVI may rely on:

My daughter sees better up close. Some things have been in our home for her entire life that she hasn’t noticed. Then, one day she will discover it as though it is brand new!

CVI Parent

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

Vision fundamentally facilitates learning, leading to knowledge, skills and traits that will shape the child’s personality and cognition. If children with CVI are not identified and appropriate measures taken to ensure that all educational input is visible or rendered accessible by alternative means, they cannot learn within any domain limited by their unique pattern of visual impairment.

Chokron and Dutton, 2016

What are some examples of adaptations and accommodations? 

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

With CVI’s impact on visually accessing one’s surroundings both at near and at a distance, the effects are far-reaching and require a targeted instructional approach to effectively serve and support students with CVI. 

Find more examples from a guide to common CVI IEP accommodations in the CVI Now IEP Guide. 

My son often relies on memory to attempt to fill in what can’t be seen beyond arm’s reach. We’ll be driving around town, and he’ll scream out, “oh there’s our ice cream place!” But we’re nowhere near our neighborhood ice cream shop. He knows that his sister’s old school was near the bridge over the highway. Anytime we’re driving over the highway, he’ll shout, “oh there’s my sister’s school!” But we’re nowhere near her school. When riding the train and it stops at a station, he’ll say, “there’s the other train!” But it’s a side platform and he’s pointing to a wall.

Rachel, CVI Parent

Following the science

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

This area of CVI is the culmination of all the other CVI visual behaviors. Below is a summary of research to show the profound impact of CVI on access to the surrounding environment, both at near and at a distance. 


Boy creates a vase of flower

Comprendiendo los comportamientos visuales asociados a la DVC

Read more
A CVI Illustration

¿Qué es la discapacidad visual cerebral/cortical (DVC)?

Read more
Nai Damato speaks at the NIH CVI Workshop

Highlights from the 2023 NIH CVI Workshop

Read more