cvi improvement

Visual Neuroscience: Understanding Visual Skills Scaffolding

To understand CVI at its deepest level, it is important to educate ourselves about neuroscience and learning especially as it relates to vision.

This is a fascinating TED Talk by Pawan Sinha, a visual neuroscientist at MIT. Mr. Sinha and his team research how the brain interprets the visual information that our eyes see. This research looks further into the mystery of how the visual system’s skills develop. It shatters long held beliefs about the critical periods for vision development and highlights the building understanding of plasticity.

This knowledge led Mr Sinha to important work restoring sight for children with visual impairments in India. These children undergo surgery to remove cataracts, an ocular visual impairment. Because these children’s brains did not receive visual information prior to surgery, they still struggle to see when the cataract is gone. Sinha and his team were then able to document how their brains learned to interpret visual information over time.

What I find most fascinating is the discovery of motion as the fundamental building block for visual scaffolding. The children are followed weekly after surgery. Perception of motion develops first (week one), then shape recognition with movement (week two), color recognition (week three), face detection (week four) and finally at 40 weeks post surgery, object recognition.

I doubt when Mr. Sinha talks of “face detection” that he means “facial recognition”. In teaching children with CVI, we know this develops much later.

What does this suggest to me?

  • Scientists have so much more to learn.
  • Recovery or development of sight is possible at any age due to plasticity of the brain.
  • Vision develops with understanding of the careful scaffolding of visual skills based in motion.
  • I need to continue to understand the brain and its functioning as it relates to building visual skills.


Expect Improvement!



The expectation of improvement is the hallmark of CVI. The assessment-driven programming helps identify the child’s visual functioning. The assessment drives appropriate goals and objectives using strategies around the visual behaviors of CVI. The frequent and ongoing reassessment charts the progress and reduction of CVI environmental supports.

I have had many students over the years and each and every one has made improvements at various rates. This improvement is based heavily on where the brain was damaged or impacted what other  brain areas were impacted (language, memory etc.), how that unique brain recovers and how accessible the visual environment is for the child to build visual experiences. Several children have progressed in dramatic ways, moving from functioning as a child with severely limited vision to a child that uses vision to access the world. Improvement doesn’t happen without full understanding of CVI and how CVI impacts these individual children. Inservices yearly for every new staff member is essential for this shared understanding. “Additional Information” on the IEP is the perfect place to note this.  Collaboration of family and teams to provide 24/7 visual supports provide the possibility for the growth of vision skills. When progress is made, it is this coordinated, planned use of appropriate supports that build children’s vision.