By Jennifer Smith TEIS Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments
How can my child have a visual impairment if the doctor says her eyes are perfect? On the surface, that seems to be a contradictory statement; a person with a visual impairment and perfect eyes, but vision happens when multiple body systems are coordinated. Your child’s perfect eyes may be collecting visual information without difficulty, but her brain may be processing that information ineffectively. Visual impairments that happen in the brain are called Neurological or Cortical Visual Impairment or CVI. CVI is becoming more commonly recognized as a component of many other brain injuries, related to premature birth or related to traumatic head injury. Fortunately, if early and informed intervention to support visual development occurs, children affected by CVI can attain near typical visual abilities.
Caregivers of children with congenital or traumatic brain-based disabilities such as Cerebral Palsy, Periventricular Leukomalacia, or shaken baby syndrome (among others) might consider the possibility of vision being impacted by these neurological conditions. In the Pittsburgh area, we are fortunate to have one of the foremost experts in the field of CVI, Dr. Christine Roman-Lantzy, providing CVI evaluations, in addition to the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children’s Outreach Director and CVI Project leader, Beth Ramella, providing evaluations and information. While a neurologist’s evaluation is required for a medical diagnosis, these two providers can produce a thorough evaluation and suggestions for your child’s visual education. In addition, most Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments (TSVIs) are well educated in the effects of CVI and how to treat this visual disorder, and can make excellent recommendations for next steps if you suspect CVI may be affecting your child.
CVI can affect ten areas of visual abilities, and within this group of abilities, some areas may be more or less affected than others. Ask yourself the following questions while considering your child’s behavior:
If you have concerns or questions about CVI and your child, please speak with your pediatrician and consult an eye care professional familiar with CVI, such as a pediatric ophthalmologist or pediatric neurologist. Early intervention is crucial in CVI, because unlike many optic-based visual impairments, visual skills can be improved through education, training and support. Research has shown that treatment by TSVIs with knowledge of CVI can improve the visual outcomes of children dramatically. If your child receives a diagnosis of CVI, she will be placed on a range from 1-10, with 1 being the lowest level of visual functioning, and 10 being near typical visual functioning. With experiences and opportunities crafted together with your doctor, the CVI evaluator, the TSVI, and you – your baby’s first teacher, your child can make enormous growth in visual skills during the early years.
Christine Roman-Lantzy works through Allegheny Health Network, West Penn Hospital
Beth Ramella at Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children, call (412) 621-0100 x 379