In photos: Living with CVI

Strategy, adaptation and accessibility are at the heart of supporting children with Cortical / Cerebral Visual Impairment (CVI), at home and in the world

A silhouette of a boy in a wheelchair and his mom in front of a brightly lit art piece in a darkened room.

Oscar takes a trip to the museum: For kids with CVI, light, color and movement promote visual attention and recognition. That means art exhibits like this one — featuring bright, different colored lights contrasted against much darker surroundings — are more accessible to children like Oscar. Photo by Ryan Beckman. Artwork by Dan Flavin. Presented at Dia Beacon Museum.

February 16, 2021

Living with CVI looks different for everyone. But with adaptation and strategy, families can help their children learn important life skills and, as importantly, simply have fun being a kid! At home and out in the world, here’s a glimpse of what life is like for CVI families, and how daily activities and fun outings can be made more accessible to their children.

Defining CVI: Short for Cortical Visual Impairment/Cerebral Visual Impairment, 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 resulting in a lack of access for understanding the world around them. CVI is known to be the leading cause of visual impairment in children in the United States.
Interested in learning more?
CVI Now is Perkins’ new website and online community dedicated to supporting families of children with CVI.   

Madison adjusts to some home improvement

A three panel photo shows a little girl with CVI at first unsure about sitting on a new carpet and then sitting on it. Text on the image reads: "Checking it out," Let's sit," and "I'm safe again."

Sometimes, living with a child who has CVI means getting comfortable with changes in environment. When Madison’s family got a new carpet, she couldn’t even bring herself to step on it. So Madison’s mom started planting herself in the middle of it. “If she wanted to get to me, she had to go onto the carpet,” she says. Gradually, Madison would inch out for a few seconds and retreat, getting more and more comfortable over time. Now, she doesn’t even hesitate!

Mason makes his own space

A little boy with CVI sits in the corner of a room matches letters to images of 2D objects on a black felt top.

Mason matches letters to 2D photos of different objects. Each 2D image uses highly saturated color with a black background to support recognition and the development of literacy skills. The black mat reduces visual clutter and provides important contrast to help him see, but this is more than a lesson in object recognition and literacy. His location is also important. Instead of sitting at a table or in a typical learning environment, he’s made his own little space in the corner of a room on the floor — he’s even sitting on a scooter! For kids with CVI, being comfortable in an environment looks different for everyone, but is critical for helping them learn and keeping their attention.

Henry enjoys a snack and discovers silverware

A little boy sits at a table and eats clementines, switching between using one of three forks. An Elmo toy is propped up against a black background.

In CVI households, meal time can take a bit of strategizing. Here, Henry is learning how to use a fork with one of his favorite foods, clementines. As he explores three different forks, switching between them helps build both a visual and tactile memory for the various forms of this utensil so he’ll be able to identify them independently in the future. Meanwhile, Elmo — a comforting toy for Henry — is propped up in front of him against a black background, ensuring snack time isn’t merely a chore, but something more enjoyable and fun!

James picks for apples and life lessons

In an apple orchard, a boy in a wheelchair is handed an apple by his mother.

James isn’t just apple picking — he’s experiencing what an apple feels like, in the environment they come from. Sighted children might glean this type of information from incidental learning, but for kids with visual impairments, CVI included, the tactile experience is helpful. Now, next time James is offered an apple, he’ll have this experience and know what an apple feels like and where they come from. This exploration also allows a richer context to support visual recognition of the apple.

Logan writes his way to a better future

A little boy uses a touch screen to write out the word "Mom," the red lettering against a black backdrop providing a strong contrast so he can see the screen.

As part of a writing lesson, Logan practices his handwriting skills using a backlit device, a reduced clutter presentation and highly saturated color.  Activities like this one also support eye to object fixation and visual motor development — both important for not just writing, but also necessary yet sometimes difficult daily activities, like eating.

Zachary shines with his pots and pans

A little boy sits in front of a Christmas tree with a big smile on his face, holding pots and pans.

If you couldn’t tell by his smile, Zachary loves playing with pots and pans! As something most families already have around the house, they make for great toys as well. That’s because their shine supports visual attention. Families just might need to be prepared for a bit of noise, but that’s life with a young child, sighted or otherwise!

Interested in learning more? CVI Now is Perkins’ new website and online community dedicated to supporting families of children with CVI. 



Read more about: CVI, Low Vision