What Do Children with CVI See?

(Click to enlarge)

Optical illusion lost cow

It can be so hard to explain what children with CVI see.  In fact, we really don’t know what each individual child with CVI experiences their visual world. That will be different for each child based on the location and extent of the visual brain involvement, the other areas of the brain impacted, the child’s unique visual experiences before and after the injury and the way that unique brain rewires. This picture is a good way to explain the difficulty with visual recognition that children with CVI have. It is not what the the world looks like to a child with CVI. In this simulation, you see all the colors of black and white.  You see each line and shading but your brain is searching its visual memory for what this image represents.  You can feel several CVI visual behaviors:

You are experiencing delay in recognition: its taking you a long time to understand this.

This is visually complex scene.

If you were in a loud environment, it would take you longer to find meaning (Sensory Integration difficulties).

If I asked you to look at this while balancing on a thin balance beam, you would take longer to understand the picture (Positional Complexity).

You want to hold this closer to your face to understand what it represents (Distance).

You have never seen this before so it is new to you.  Once you have understood it the first time.  It will take you less time to find it the next time. (Novelty/Visual Recognition)

This simulation is a great tool to use with teams to help them understand that looking does not mean understanding what is seen. This is one of the greatest concepts to convey to parents and school based team members.


    1. Hi Mark,
      This is exactly the point! I’m glad you commented! When children are in Phase II and Phase III, people observe children looking at things and think that CVI has resolved. It is “looking” just as you are looking at this image. You see every line, color and shape but your brain has not recognized the content and meaning of the picture. For many children with CVI, the understanding of what is seen must be carefully built.
      If you look at the series of cow pictures here, in the last one I have added color highlighting to help you find the salient feature, the cow. Once you see it, it jumps out. The next time you see it, the latency period for recognizing will be less from your previous success.
      That is the experience of what a child will CVI might see!


  1. Thank you, I’m going to print what ever I can regarding what my child sees for school. They don’t see much of a problem even though he’s partially sighted, has cvi, nystagmus, myopia and a squint. No depth perception, can’t see faces but he’s got great spatial awareness. They don’t understand at all.


  2. Ellen, once again your blog is such a great resource. My son is doing hippotherapy this summer with a PT who is newish to CVI and I’m directing her to your blog. Keep up this important work!


    1. Yes the black, white and gray. My point in this exercise this that you do not have any problem seeing the very small lines, the black, gray and white color, the card itself. You are struggling with visual recognition and we have the benefit of a huge library of visual images. Most of our students do no have this huge library.


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