What is CVI?

CVI stands for Cerebral Visual Impairment or in USA – Cortical Visual Impairment.  It is the leading cause of childhood blindness and low vision. CVI is a lifelong brain-based visual impairment, caused by damage to the brain’s visual pathways or visual processing areas.

People with CVI can struggle with visual attention and visual recognition, making it difficult to understand the world around them. Some people with CVI see the world as distorted and unrecognisable. Others can focus, but might struggle to understand what they see. A crowded environment, a freezing cold day, or tiredness can have huge impact on the individuals vision. 

Although there are some common traits, CVI manifests differently in everyone. Some people have trouble with facial recognition, hand-eye coordination, or combining vision with other senses. People experiences with CVI may change over time, as the condition is lifelong, they often develop unique compensatory skills to manage their visual world.

Why is CVI often misunderstood?

People commonly associate blindness and low vision with ocular (eye) impairment. But CVI is a neurological issue, where the brain has trouble processing what the eyes can see. Some people with CVI have perfectly healthy eyes, which can cause diagnostic confusion.

There is growing research that suggests many people with CVI also have overlapping conditions, such as cerebral palsy, autism, or Down Syndrome, which makes diagnosis challenging. This is because many of the behaviours presented by CVI also relate to existing diagnosis.

How can we make it easier for someone with CVI to see?

Make It Easier is a set of 3 word prompts, that can make it easier for a person with CVI to visually access the world. By using the Make it Easier method over time, we can discover the best way to support that young person with their vision.  

Visual difficultyHow to Make It Easier To See
Problems seeing multiple objectsjust one thing
Problems with visual searchclear the clutter
Lower visual field inattentionshow it high
Right side (or left side) inattentionbetter on left (or right)
Problems seeing moving objectskeep it still
Variable visual attentionmy vision varies
Short periods of visual attentionkeep it short
Poor acuity, blurred vision, problems with contrastbig bold bright
Delay in switching on or using visiongive me time

At Seashell, we take time to understand the complexity of each young persons diagnosis, and use this as a foundation for their learning – this person centred approach enables us to support each student in the best way possible, helping them to achieve their educational outcomes.

We deliver this support both at Seashell, in our school and college, and also externally to the community. Find out more about how we can deliver support externally here.

Written by Veena Ramrakhiani. 
Qualified Teacher of Multi-Sensory Impairments/ Deafblindness; Seashell Sensory Support Team