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Incidental learning opportunities for CVI

Children with CVI don’t have the same opportunities for incidental learning as others do. Here's why it matters, and how parents can help bridge the gap.

A young boy smiling using a walking device

Think about a toddler standing in line at the store. He reaches for candy at the cash register, runs after a plastic ball in the toy aisle or grabs for a colorful magazine at checkout. He sees mom or dad unload their cart, item by item, and pay. All that time, he’s absorbing information about the world around him — completely incidentally. He’s making connections: a ball bounces, money is used to pay, a magazine has pages you can flip. Children with Cortical Visual Impairment/Cerebral Visual Impairment (CVI) don’t have those opportunities for incidental learning.

Happily, improved vision naturally increases opportunities for incidental learning. However, a child with CVI will also need more opportunities for intentional learning — scenarios that are deliberate, consistent and predictable, as opposed to simply unfolding during the course of a day. Your child will benefit from both, and you and your child’s team can provide them.

What is incidental learning?

Incidental learning is the information you receive with your eyes without even knowing it — like that example at the store. Kids under three whose visual pathways don’t work correctly face challenges in their ability to learn, just at the time when their brains are developing the most. Challenges posed by lack of access to incidental learning continue to pose barriers across a person’s lifetime without support and consideration for accessibility.

A child with CVI isn’t taking in information about the space around him. He needs someone to explain to him what he feels, hears, smells and sees. Those explanations are best paired with hands-on experience to gain meaning from the experience. This is why it’s so important for a child with CVI to work with an early intervention team, who can create the experiences so many of us take for granted. It’s crucial for your child to gain access as soon as possible.

Why does incidental learning matter?

Incidental learning helps us make sense of our world. Without incidental learning, words and concepts lack meaning.

Here are some examples of how kids with CVI might experience the world, without opportunities for incidental learning:

Kids with CVI don’t have the chance to ascribe sensory meaning to their world in the same way we do, which is why creating opportunities for incidental learning is so important. Check out some other incidental learning examples on CVI Momifesto.

Girl looking at a small Christmas tree while a teacher shines light on it

Bridging the gap

As your child’s vision improves, his opportunities for incidental learning improve, too. That’s why early intervention is so crucial.

Vision and hearing are “distance” senses while our tactile sense is a “near” sense. Children with CVI can have difficulty learning incidentally due to the various implications of CVI, including the impact of increased distances from objects, people and events. They have difficulty linking auditory and tactile input to visual events. With guided support, your child’s access to learning can be enhanced through active participation.

In this way, parents and educational teams can recreate those incidental learning experiences that happen for most of us naturally. With more explicit learning opportunities, kids with CVI can:


Learn more about the neurological facets of incidental learning on the CVI Teacher Blog.

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