What is CVI?



Shy (or socially awkward, or introverted)

These behaviours in children with CVI can often be due to lack of social confidence or a lack of social understanding. To explain...

Think of a simple conversation, maybe asking a neighbour if they want something from the shops, and you talk about local issues like the parking and the weather.

As well as the information you are sharing through what you are saying, you are both communicating together using the language of emotions and feelings. Your neighbour and you will be familiar with each other's expressions, gesticulations, body language, tones of voice, turns of phrase and other subtle things, like optimism and humour. You will pick up on how the other is feeling and respond accordingly. We all do this with the people we come across, it is called Theory of Mind.

Think about your conversation with your neighbour, putting the words to one side, and just the ways you each communicate how you are feeling. Most of this is not verbal. 90% of how we express how we are feeling we do without words.

Most of the way we communicate about how we feel, is visual not verbal.

Your child has a visual impairment, so this language of emotions and feelings, needed for social interactions, may be inaccessible or poorly accessible for them to learn from, making your child vulnerable to:

  • having their feelings hurt, without understanding why
  • accidentally hurting the feelings of others, maybe offending or insulting people without meaning to
  • feelings of low self esteem
  • feelings of lack of social confidence

All of these can leave your child feeling socially extremely nervous, particularly around new people. They may become very clingy to one of two people and start to avoid social situations.

Remember, this is because a very important emotional language is not available for them to learn effectively. It is not their fault, but over time behaviours develop, and this can be an increasingly difficult area.


Changing the way you talk with your child. For younger children try putting words to your and your child's emotions as they happen, for example:

  • mummy hurt her finger which is making mummy sad
  • your lovely drawing makes me smile and feel happy, how are you feeling?
  • you are not looking happy, talk to me about what you are feeling

Through these talks you can teach your child about the emotions they feel and other people express, which can help with social relationships to make them more confident and less shy.

It will take time, and lots of patience, and very importantly trust and consistency.

Later, for the older child...

Start with the people closest to your child, and talk about feelings and emotions. The emotional language conveyed by facial expression and gesture is something it is expected we all just 'pick-up', but this is not the case for all. Where your child has gaps in their understanding, help fill them.

Use words, and remember your child can't necessarily see all of what you see, so think about how you explain things.

Your child has a complex visual impairment and expression of emotion is, for most people, a very complex almost entirely visual language. So practice explaining how your child is feeling, and how you are feeling too. Get others to do this as well.

Home Talk

Create a really safe space for talks about how different people have reacted in different social situations. Other children may have laughed at your child, but your child may not have understood why. So talk it through and see if you can pick up on what may have been missed. Often it is little things that have been missed because they could not be seen, but once social confidence begins to erode, without help, this can progress. So it is good to start early.

Further reading
Emotions - short and simple explanation of emotional development and how CVI affects this.

Emotions - Learning Emotions with CVI

Lesson 8c - How CVI makes recognising facial expressions more difficult, leading to social difficulties.


Your generous donations will be put to immediate use in supporting our charity...

Donate Here

About Us

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