One of the core needs for a child with a visual impairment is advocacy. It is an essential component of the Expanded Core Curriculum for learners with visual impairments. Children need to understand CVI (the cause of of their visual difficulties), be able to name that specific visual behavior difficulty and be able to present concrete solutions. This is especially true for children with CVI. CVI is a misunderstood, often invisible visual impairment. Advocacy by the child becomes much more necessary to ensure visual accessibility in learning and life.
Some children with CVI are clearly visually impaired due to their very limited visual attention to the objects and people around them. They are impacted by clutter, motion, crowding, difficulty with faster visual tasks, difficulty in noisy places, difficulty using eye/hand or eye/foot visually guided motor skills, difficulty looking at or visually identifying objects and people and difficulty with any 2D forms. The general public can clearly “see” their version of CVI. Adults that do not understand visual neuroplasticity, the possible capacity to improve visual skills, see this severe visual impairment and never present objects visually. They tend to bypass vision to use other compensatory skills. For the adult that does understand CVI, modeling advocacy builds skills for the child across the day, across different environments and across the child’s lifetime. To build visual attention the adult need to model: “Joe: Here is a ball. You have CVI so I will hold it close, at eye level, move it slightly until you can see this round, red ball.” (Hold until visual attention it gained). “That was great Joe. I will let you feel the round ball (present until the hands and fully explore). “Joe: I will show this round, red ball again (Hold until visual attention is gained). Just teaching the child to ask “Can I see it” and “What does it look like?” reminds the adult to provide visual access and to provide a verbal description.
Some children with CVI have better visual attention but lack visual recognition. These are the children who might not seem visually impaired at all. They look at objects and people but looking does not mean they understand what they see. They are impacted by clutter, motion, crowding, difficulty identifying newer things, difficulty with faster visual tasks, difficulty in noisy places, with identifying people, difficulty stepping and reaching accurately, and difficulty with more symbolic forms (like cartoon pictures that don’t look like the real object).
Their advocacy helps them understand their version of CVI, empowers them and reduces frustration, reduces anxiety and reduces “CVI Meltdowns”.
I used to work with a young student with very good visual attention. Most people seeing her would not understand her version of CVI. She had a “invisible visual impairment”. She looked at objects and some people but looking did not mean she understood what she was seeing. She was greatly impacted by motion, clutter and crowding especially if there was also noise. If she was in a hallway with more than 3 people, talking and moving, she became anxious and afraid and the crying, lashing out CVI Meltdown would begin.
Seeing the student’s escalating anxiety, knowledgeable staff successfully modeled:
“This hallway is cluttered. Because of your CVI, clutter and motion are difficult. To solve this, you can ask to leave early before the bell rings or take the alternative route using another hallway. Which would you like to do?”
This simple advocacy modeling identified the problem, taught the child about her CVI and gave solutions to the child. Her anxiety in hallways reduced and CVI Meltdowns almost disappeared.
Adults must understand CVI in order to teach advocacy effectively. Start early and providing modeled advocacy often gives children with the language and advocacy skills to ensure visual accessibility.