Five things to know about CVI

Cortical/Cerebral Visual Impairment is the fast-growing (and perhaps most complex) cause of visual impairment in the U.S.

A teacher shows a sparkly gold pom-pom to a young girl in a wheelchair.

CVI is a brain-based visual impairment caused by damage to the visual pathways or visual processing areas of the brain. Learners struggle with visual attention and visual recognition, making it difficult to visually access to the world around them.

Cortical/Cerebral Visual Impairment (CVI) is a brain-based – not eye-based – condition. Children with CVI can receive visual input, but their brain has difficulty making sense of that information. As a result, children can appear to see some things but not others. Some children with CVI may also have additional ocular impairments.

A CVI diagnosis is frequently suspected when a child shows signs of having a visual impairment but may, for example, pass a routine eye exam or have ocular impairments that do not account for the visual behaviors. Unfortunately, many doctors and teachers are still not familiar with CVI, and countless children go undiagnosed today.

Here are five essential things you should know about this complex condition:

  1. CVI is the leading cause of visual impairment in developed countries. CVI is a neurological-based disorder that can be the result of a number of different medical conditions. Possible causes include developmental brain anomalies, a prenatal lack of oxygen and head injuries.
  2. CVI is a complex diagnosis. The fact that many children have other disabilities in addition to CVI, including ocular visual impairments, can make diagnosing CVI difficult. Each child has a unique combination of visual behaviors and compensatory skills. Children and adults with CVI have different severity levels of visual impairment. 
  3. CVI requires a different approach than other visual impairments. CVI requires unique assessments in order to effectively adapt a child’s home and school environment, including daily activities like getting dressed, navigating complex routes, reading and more. Functional modifications of the environment are important to help the child achieve greater progress and independence. There’s no one-size-fits-all model, and each child is unique. 
  4. Our knowledge of CVI is constantly evolving. As research continues among the CVI population, scientists are learning more about the brain, the visual system, and the characteristics of this condition. 
  5. There are many resources to find out more about CVI. With a surge in the amount of information available about CVI, there are plenty of places to learn everything you need to know. Here are a few resources to help get you started:
  • CVI Now: Go-to resource with current and vetted articles, expert Q&As, family stories, and research about CVI 
  • CVIScotland: Provides in-depth learning about CVI
  • Perkins eLearning: Offers online CVI courses for teachers, parents and others.
  • Paths to Literacy: Promotes literacy for children who are blind, with specific resources for kids with CVI.

As with every other type of visual impairment, knowledge is power when it comes to helping children with CVI learn, grow and thrive.

Hillary Kleck is the web content coordinator for the Information Technology department at Perkins School for the Blind. She is also on the board of directors of We Perceive, Inc., a nonprofit organization promoting a fully accessible world for children with visual impairments.

Read more about: CVI Spotlight, Advocacy, CVI, Low Vision