Cortical/Cerebral Visual Impairment in Children

What Is Cerebral/Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI)?

Although vision or sight, as a sense, is primarily associated with the eyes, in reality, vision is the product of a complex system of which the eyes are only one part. The processing of visual information—the receipt of visual stimuli through the eyes, its interpretation by various brain centers, and its translation into visual images—has been estimated to involve as much as 40 percent of the brain. When this process is disrupted, the visual systems of the brain do not consistently interpret or understand what the eyes see, and visual impairment is the result.

The resulting visual impairment is considered a cerebral or cortical visual impairment (CVI).

CVI is also known as neurological visual impairment, traumatic brain injury, and brain-damage-related visual impairment. CVI may be temporary or permanent.

Neurological vision loss affects both children and adults. This issue is widely debated among professionals in vision-related services. There’s no consensus yet on its definition, assessment, and required services. More research is needed to identify effective educational, rehabilitative, and medical practices for this type of vision loss.

Diagnosis and Treatment

A diagnosis of CVI is made when an ophthalmologist reports normal eye anatomy, yet the child is exhibiting signs of vision loss. An MRI of the brain will usually confirm neurological or anatomy irregularities.

There may be treatments for the underlying causes of CVI. Regarding vision only, it is thought that CVI can improve over time.

What is My Child’s Vision

The degree of vision loss may be mild or severe and can vary greatly, even from day to day.

People with cerebral/cortical visual impairment have difficulty using or understanding what their eyes see. For example, they may have trouble recognizing faces, interpreting drawings, perceiving depth, or distinguishing between background and foreground. Children with cerebral or cortical visual impairment are often able to see better when told in advance what to look for. Additionally, many with CVI can see better when the target object is moving.

Children with CVI may have sensitivity to light or may fixate on light, may have poor depth perception, and may have better peripheral vision than central vision.

Your child’s Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments (TVIs) should conduct a functional vision assessment. This evaluates how your child uses their remaining vision. They should also perform a learning media assessment to identify the senses your child mainly uses to gather environmental information. Along with an orientation and mobility assessment by a mobility specialist, these evaluations will provide the team with crucial information. This data is necessary for making tailored recommendations for your child’s optimal access to learning materials and their environment.

How Does My Child’s Vision Work

Your child may struggle with recognizing facial expressions, processing cluttered environments, identifying static images or letters, using vision for long periods, central vision use, or safe travel. They might benefit from travel training by a mobility specialist and environmental adaptations. These include higher contrast in surroundings and print, screen magnification software, improved or varied lighting, and reduced visual clutter. Providing head support and vision breaks, presenting objects in their peripheral vision, and using moving objects for better viewing can also help.

Tasks may also be taught to complete without the use of vision. The TVI may teach your child braille, use of screen-reading software to use the computer, and other techniques for performing life skills and academic tasks.

Resources for Families of Children with CVI

If you need information or resources, call us at 1-800-232-5463 (M-F, 8:00AM-8:00PM Eastern). You can also email us at [email protected].

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