What is CVI?



Anxious (or nervous or stressed)

This section (and the next section, Angry), are all to do with a part of your child's brain that is triggered, and gives them 'butterflies' and nervous feelings.

That butterflies feeling comes from chemicals the brain releases when a threat is thought to be looming. That threat might be real, or it might just be in your child's mind, but if they are feeling anxious, then their brain has responded to something they think is 'real'.

The threat can include your child thinking they are:

  • about to hurt themselves by bumping into something
  • going to get their feelings hurt through a personal encounter
  • going to get their feelings hurt, maybe because they they are embarrassed they can't do something, like a sport, or not being chosen for a team, or in class at school.

The key word is hurt.

Your child can be physically hurt or mentally hurt - both hurt!

Your child's brain has a very important job, and that is to stop your child getting hurt.

That shot of chemicals is their brain's way of helping them. The butterflies feeling isn't actually very pleasant, it makes them feel edgy. What it is actually doing is sending blood to their fists to make them fight harder or the big muscles in their legs to make them run faster - that's why it is often called 'fight or flight'. It is a very primitive brain reflex, and with CVI we know for some children with a lot of difficulties, it can be being triggered much of the time.

That's what is happening when they feel nervous or anxious, a chain of events and chemical reactions is going on in their mind affecting their whole body - the good news is there is a lot you can do to help:


Both you and your child will be empowered by understanding a little more about this process.

  • 1. Understand. There are two main emotional areas supporting us, one is the primitive reflex (fight or flight) and the other a much more organised emotional centre at the front of the brain. Think of all the wise, kind and clever people you have known who have helped and cared for you, sitting around a big round table in your mind. They help you with your choices and decisions - really they do! They are your memories of wise, kind and clever people who help steer the choices you make. Your child has a similar round table, no doubt with you sitting at the top of it.
  • That round table is what you want to have operating to support your child. When fight or flight is triggered, it is a bit like someone shutting the door on the room with the round table. It is harder to think rationally or calmly, and it is a horrible feeling.
  • 2. Empower. Teach your child about their emotional brain, and together learn to recognise the feelings created by the chemicals in their body - find a word, whether it is butterflies, or tummy tigers or worry wobbles - whatever works for your child. Learn that feeling and give it a name.
  • 3. Control. Teach your child, when they feel the worry wobbles, to press in their mind a pause button. Then teach your child to take a few moments to think about what is going on, and remember their round table, and try to think what the wise people would do. Depending on your child's age and abilities, agree some strategies when they press the pause button, maybe talk to you, or count to twenty.
  • 4. Master. This takes time and discipline, and is probably more useful as your child gets older and needs to do more independently. Recognising this feeling and being able to stop and assess before reacting is a skill that will help them through life.

 Teach your child to recognise the feeling of anxiety and to press a pause button in their mind - it is a skill they can develop and use throughout life. Teach your child to recognise the feeling of anxiety and to press a pause button in their mind - it is a skill they can develop and use throughout life.

An approach to help calm nerves and reduce the anxious feeling, is to give the brain something else to do. Something simple, calming and enjoyable - what does your child like to do like that? Maybe colouring or drawing, or a walk somewhere calm and open like the countryside or a beach.

Anything that means that a fight or flight reflex is regularly activated, as is the case here, can leave your child feeling physically very tired, possibly a bit lethargic. They then need rest and sleep.

Further reading
Behaviours, explaining more about how anxieties link to behavioural difficulties
Corona Newsletter, where we explain a little more about fight or flight, and how easily it can spiral.


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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.