What is CVI?

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Attention & Its Calibration - Examples

Below are several different examples explaining the concepts we introduced in the previous section - if you have not read the previous section please read it first as the explanations following the examples are based on concepts we gave these specific names to:

  • Sensory Radar
  • Conscious Attention
  • Non-conscious Attention
  • Calibration
  • (Conscious) Attention Zones

Attention ZonesAttention Zones

Baby Monitor Example

A father is reading a book whilst their baby sleeps, but has a baby monitor next to them connected to the child's bedroom where gentle music is playing.

The father comfortably ignores the known sound of gentle music playing in their baby's bedroom, heard through the monitor, whilst the baby sleeps, and is able to focus on reading a book.

  • The father is in his green zone, feeling safe and comfortable.
  • The book gets the father's conscious attention, and he is focusing on reading.
  • The monitor is not quite non-conscious attention, but close enough to not distract from the reading, although the sound of the gentle music is also probably gives reassurance that the monitor is working (not all distractions are negative, some, as here, can actually help keep you feeling calm, relaxed and safe, in your green zone).
  • As stated in the previous section, conscious and non-conscious attention are a range, here the baby monitor is between the two.

The sound from the monitor changes to crying.

  • The father may still be in his green zone, all babies cry, although he will be pushed towards amber because,,,
  • The crying heard through the monitor is given conscious attention. Even if the father wanted to ignore the crying, maybe to see if the baby would re-settle on their own, they now have two things fighting for their conscious attention (the book and the crying sound). Whilst there is the crying, the father will not be able to focus as much on the book - in addition to feeling slightly more alert to the baby crying, even though this is normal, now the father may be feeling a little irritated because he is unable to focus on reading his book, pushing him towards his amber zone.

The sound from the monitor changes to a deafening scream, indicating severe distress or pain.

  • Red Zone!! There is a threat, danger and immediate action is required
  • The book is thrown down, his conscious attention has just been downgraded to non-conscious attention - the scream, indicating danger gets a powerful combination of conscious attention and red zone - to allow all attention to be focused on the danger. This is fight or flight time!

The warning and level of alert is sufficient, and anticipating what may be life threatening danger, blood is diverted to the father's leg muscles to aid the speed he can run to reach the baby.

When needed, your sensory radar has the capacity to trump everything else you are feeling and ensure you are prepared to fight or flight.When needed, your sensory radar has the capacity to trump everything else you are feeling and ensure you are prepared to fight or flight.

Breathing Emergency Example

A mother describes her experience when her son was unable to breathe in terms of her attention, both how she felt and the levels of attention the experience was gave her.

My son choked on his milk and it made his windpipe spasm making his breathing very difficult, it sounded like he was gasping for breath.

I was in the Green zone, this may sound odd, but this is a situation I am very familiar with and I am very confident about managing it so was calm

However, whilst I am calm, I am completely focused, nothing else exists, I can't hear people talking and am not aware of movement, 100% of my focus is on my child.

Had my son not started breathing comfortably within thirty seconds I would start to become concerned, and probably move from the calm controlled green zone, to the slightly worried amber zone, as something possibly atypical or dangerous might be going on. Just being in the amber zone, a little worried, is taking away from the full conscious attention I need to attend to the situation. After one minute I would start to panic.

When this first happened I did not know what to do and was just screaming "someone call an ambulance!" Straight into red zone - fight or flight!

I have had training now, but it has taken years of repeated experiences for me to attend to what is potentially a life-threatening issue in such a genuinely calm and controlled way.

Many people have to deal with dangerous and even life threatening situations, including those in the armed forces, emergency services, doctors, nurses, and parents of children with certain medical condition including breathing difficulties and types of epilepsy.

What this mother describes is how, through repeated experience, her attention system was essentially trained to re-calibrate what was initially experienced as a 'fight-or flight' emergency (I didn't know what to do and was just screaming 'someone call an ambulance') to a situation she can manage in a controlled way, and thus manage more effectively.

People with CVI, through controlled exposure using baby-steps, can also re-calibrate what are frightening or confusing experiences, but they have to learn, and for many that will involve someone else understanding how they learn and teaching them.

Please review our example in the previous section towards the end (No 3 Trips) where we explain in more detail an approach to learning to help re-calibrate attention in this way.

Rustling Leaves

Consider sitting outside at lunch-time in a quiet park, maybe checking your phone for messages. There may be the sound of rustling leaves on trees, but your sensory radar has given this sound non-conscious attention because the sound is so well known to be safe that it can be ignored.

Later you find yourself walking alone down a dark lane after you missed the last bus home. You feel alone and vulnerable, definitely in the amber zone, possibly in the red zone if you are really worried. The wind makes the leaves rustle and it makes you jump, the same sound of rustling leaves that you were not even aware of earlier, is now given such a high level of conscious attention that you are startled.

It is the change in your zone, from green when checking your phone, to amber / red when walking alone at night that is feeding back into the system, heightening attention. What you are experiencing is being upgraded because of an increased sense of threat.

For many with CVI, even somewhere that feels safe can feel threatening if something is unexpectedly 'out of place'.

Their system has had to work much harder than most to calibrate the surroundings (as explained in the previous section), so anything different or new may seem like an intruder, and be anything from mildly irritating to terrifying. One child we know had a full CVI Meltdown because a new cartoon was added to his favourite children's television channel - it was intruding!

We explain a bit more about these experiences in our Safe Places section.

 For all of us, how we are feeling will have an impact on what we experience, so sometimes leaves are not consciously heard, and other times they can make you jump For all of us, how we are feeling will have an impact on what we experience, so sometimes leaves are not consciously heard, and other times they can make you jump

Office Example

If you work in a busy office where people are moving about, over time you will have learnt to ignore this distraction and get on with the job in hand. Your sensory radar has learnt to re-calibrate the movement, which it was programmed to draw your attention to, and give it non-conscious attention instead. This was learnt, through repeated consistent experiences and took time.

For someone with CVI this is much more difficult and can take much longer.

So a child with CVI may find it very difficult to ignore movement and noise in the classroom, and may come across as distracted and not paying attention

What is happening is the child has not been given enough time to take in the change. Any changes may have not been seen and accommodated, so their attention systems could not re-calibrate, to enable them to stay calm and focused.

New situations and changing scenarios that most aren't even aware of, in a busy classroom, can create huge barriers to learning, and can make the child with CVI very anxious, stressed or even angry, even leading to challenging behaviour.

The solution is so simple, make experiences and learning learnable, and allow the person enough time (see previous section).

Many take for granted the re-calibration process needed to focus in a busy office or classroom, but for people with CVI this is much more difficult, and they can come across as distracted.Many take for granted the re-calibration process needed to focus in a busy office or classroom, but for people with CVI this is much more difficult, and they can come across as distracted.

Dog Barking Example

Mary hears a dog barking every day walking along her street and pays little attention to it. Through repeated experience she has learnt that the sound is safe and common, so it's given non-conscious attention and ignored.

One day the dog is free and wants to play and chases Mary, frightening her. From then on, every time Mary hears a dog bark she jumps.

For Mary the re-calibration process has gone the other way to our previous examples, as something that was considered safe and given non-conscious attention, through an unpleasant experience, has been re-calibrated as unsafe and now gets conscious attention when experienced.

With CVI, because so many experiences are not understood, much is calibrated as unsafe and given conscious attention. Here, the dog may have been completely harmless, and it may be in Mary's interest to re-learn that dogs are safe so she can re-calibrate again, and enjoy walking down her street once more.

To feel safe walking down her street, Mary needs to re-learn that the dog is safe, and not to be frightened.To feel safe walking down her street, Mary needs to re-learn that the dog is safe, and not to be frightened.

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At CVI Scotland we are devoted to helping people understand cerebral visual impairments, and together working towards developing the understanding of this complex condition.