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How to declutter your home for your child with CVI

Learn about why visual clutter affects kids with CVI and how to declutter your home.

A young boy sitting in a messy play room

Think about static on the radio. It’s aggravating, and it keeps you from hearing your favorite song. For kids with CVI, environmental clutter has the same effect. It keeps them from thoroughly engaging with their surroundings. Here’s how to make your home environment streamlined, welcoming, and a perfect place that fits their visual needs.

What is visual clutter?

Clutter comes in all shapes and sizes: a stacked bookshelf, a playroom strewn with toys, a kitchen table with lots of utensils. Your child might have a hard time with visual sorting and perception, and when lots of items compete for her attention, it’s even harder to focus. She may only be able to see one thing at a time (or see it better against a simple backdrop). Decluttering is all about simplification: keeping your child’s unique needs in mind and making the space easier for her to absorb and engage in.

Why clutter affects kids with CVI

“The takeaway message is that we know that there’s a fundamental limit as to how much information the visual brain can handle at any given moment,” says Dr. Lotfi Merabet, a clinician-scientist at the Laboratory for Visual Neuroplasticity at Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Harvard Medical School. Consider this: “Put one M&M in your hand. It’s easy to count, right? Now put two or three; still easy? You’ll notice that once you get up to around seven, eight, or nine, you’re no longer able to count them all instantaneously (this is called the set size effect in visual perception). This simple example demonstrates that there’s a perceptual limit in terms of how much information the visual brain can handle in a given situation. In fact, this upper limit may be lower in the case of CVI, or show more variability depending on the nature of the task demands,” he says.

Part of the problem is that the dorsal stream—the pathway that carries visual information from the primary visual cortex to the parietal lobe—is impaired in kids with CVI. But Merabet stresses that CVI can affect all parts of the brain. Each child’s brain damage is unique.

Your child’s CVI Evaluation can help identify ways in which your child is impacted by clutter. Various tools used during a CVI Evaluation focus on the many ways in which clutter can impact vision. Christine Roman’s CVI Range assessment evaluates the impact of visual complexity, or clutter, as it relates to your child’s sensory environment, objects, array, and faces. Dr. Gordon Dutton’s Visual Skills Inventory identifies the same challenges by asking questions such as, “[Does your child] have difficulty locating an item of clothing in a pile of clothes?” or “ [Does your child] get lost in places where there is a lot to see, such as a crowded shop?”

Image on left is a toy bin shelf stuffed with toys and image on right is the same toy shelf, but with a black table cloth covering the clutter of the toys

How to Declutter Your Home

For kids with CVI, often simplifying the demands of the visual task can help. For example, a child may have a hard time finding a favorite toy in a busy and cluttered box, but spacing out all the toys on a uniform background can make finding that toy a lot easier. As Merabet says, “Visual perception is not just about knowing where to look, but also knowing where not to look.” It’s important to find ways to help make visual tasks easier for a child with CVI.

Fortunately, decluttering is straightforward. It doesn’t involve a complete overhaul of your home! It’s all about streamlining. Here are some ideas:

  • Choose bedspreads, curtains, and other common background fabrics in a plain, dark color
  • Clear surfaces whenever possible, such as counters and desks
  • Provide spacing between objects
  • Use a single, subtle paint color in your child’s room and reduce art on your walls
  • Place your child’s desk in a quieter area of the house facing a blank wall; avoid high-traffic rooms
  • Reduce background noise, like TVs, whenever possible to make it easier to focus
  • Simplify: Instead of having all of your child’s toys in boxes, place your child’s favorites within easy reach in a designated play/reading space
  • Predictability is key. To help your child learn routines and make connections about what certain objects do, make sure to store regularly used items in the same place, every day; this can include favorite toys, snacks, shoes, toothbrushes, and so on
  • Make sure every item has a place. Part of reducing clutter is the ability to clean up easily and quickly throughout the day
  • For storage systems that are out in the open, use plain, dark opaque bins that are color-coded on shelves so that items are hidden from view
  • During mealtime, make sure the table is free of accumulated items: mail, toys, papers, bags, water bottles, et cetera
  • Embrace the versatility of a black sheet or tablecloth. For patterned furniture or rugs, throw a black sheet or tablecloth over it when your child is in the room.

Remember: You don’t need to invest in new furniture to make your home CVI-friendly!

Living room space two sequence pillows, sesame street dolls, pete the cat doll, and llama llama doll on top of a black mat. A toy fire truck is in front

White shelf with materials organized using magazine holders for adapted books and white bins for materials for favorite activities. For example a textured puzzle.

The environment can have a profound impact on the ability of an individual with CVI to use vision and a huge impact on visual fatigue. This can relate to an impairment in the brain that makes it difficult to make sense of the entirety of a visual scene, called simultanagnosia. Learn more about simultanagnosia, or “the difficulty in putting together and seeing the whole image simultaneously,” at CVI Scotland.

We have more to learn about the implications of clutter and we continue to discover more ideas to reduce it across environments. Dive deeper into this topic by watching Nicola McDowell’s webinar on the impact of clutter on the learning experiences and behavior of children with CVI. 

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