Understanding the CVI Visual Behaviors

Children with CVI tend to display key visual behaviors. Understanding how to address the following tendencies can go a long way in supporting your child.

Written by: Ellen Mazel, Marguerite Tibaudo, and Rachel Bennett

CVI is a brained-based visual impairment caused by injury to the brain’s visual pathways and visual processing centers. It’s usually diagnosed when abnormal visual responses can’t be attributed to eye problems alone.

Individuals with CVI tend to display key visual behaviors, and might display some or all of these behaviors. At Perkins, we synthesize current research and build on the work of leading theorists to ensure all individuals with CVI are fully understood. This is why we follow the science and center voices of individuals with CVI. The CVI visual behaviors are an ongoing need, they can change and improve for some, but the need never goes away.

Your child might display some or all of these tendencies. Knowing these CVI behaviors — and how to respond! — can go a long way toward supporting your child.

Watch an overview of the CVI visual behaviors and how they overlap at any given time and situation, putting up barriers to access.

Here’s a list of visual behaviors of CVI that are commonly evaluated and recognized by major theorists. No area is separated from the other—the CVI visual behaviors are highly connected—and all can impact the individual with CVI at any time. At Perkins, we also evaluate how individuals use their compensatory skills within each visual behavior. As you explore the visual behaviors below, each has a link to learn more.

People with CVI use compensatory skills, or the strategies, techniques, and adapted materials individuals with visual impairments need to access educational curriculum and to navigate the world. Compensatory skills use strengths to overcome areas of challenge, and are often developed naturally. Individuals with CVI use their sensory channels and cognitive processes to figure out the world around them. Their experiences directly impact how these skills are shaped and used. Some CVI compensatory skills include context, auditory cues, verbal cues, tactile cues/exploration, and color coding. Some with CVI use their vision, some use their compensatory skills, and many use both.

It’s so helpful to understand these visual behaviors of CVI because they can affect your child socially, too. Your child might not recognize people, which makes it seem like he’s ignoring them — when, of course, he’s not. He might appear to lack empathy, but it’s just because he can’t recognize and respond to facial expressions. He might seem uptight or sad, because it’s so tough to relax when trying to process visual information. Or he might not automatically defend himself when a ball is thrown toward him.

Parents often know the difficulties their child has, so collaborative assessments help give the CVI context to what parents already deeply understand about their child.

That’s why an accurate diagnosis and CVI support team is so essential. Often, CVI can look like other issues, ranging from autism to ADHD. An accurate CVI diagnosis gets to the heart of the behavior and helps your child acclimate to everyday life.

Want to learn more?

Check out our self-paced tutorial.

You can earn professional credits (PDP, ACVREP, CTLE, CE) for learning about the CVI visual behaviors.

This training module guides you through the Visual Behaviors of cerebral/cortical visual impairment, as defined by the CVI Center at Perkins School for the Blind.


Dutton, G. & Lueck, A. (2015). Vision and the Brain: Understanding Cerebral Visual Impairment in Children. New York, New York: American Foundation for the Blind Press.

Fazzi, E., et al. (2007). Spectrum of Visual Disorders in Children With Cerebral Visual Impairment. Journal of Child Neurology, 22(3), 294–301.

Philip, S.S. and Dutton, G.N. (2014), Cerebral visual impairment in children: a review. Clin Exp Optom, 97: 196-208.

Roman-Lantzy, C. (2018). Cortical Visual Impairment: An Approach to Assessment and Intervention. 2nd ed., New York, NY: AFB Press.

Zihl, J., & Dutton, G. N. (2015). Cerebral Visual Impairment in Children: Visuoperceptive and visuocognitieve disorders. Wien: Springer.

A young adult dressed in black with a black cap stands outside with his O&M instructor. They both are smiling holding white canes.

How does O&M address CVI visual behaviors? CVI and O&M: Part 2

Read more
Yalissa walks down a sidewalk with a female Perkins staff member.

How do you center CVI in O&M assessments? Strategies for CVI and O&M: Part 3

Read more
Nai speaks at the NIH CVI Workshop

Highlights from the 2023 NIH CVI Workshop

Read more