What is CVI?



Your child's behaviour may:

  • not always make sense to you
  • seem unreasonable or a disproportionate reaction
  • seem odd or peculiar

We are using the term irrational to describe all of these.

Your child has a hidden disability, but your child also has a brain full of their memories to date.

Those memories form the basis of:

  • the choices your child makes
  • how they understand things
  • how they react to things

So those memories are really important to understand.

If your child is behaving or responding in a way you think is irrational, it could be due to their CVI, meaning for example, something is not seen, is misunderstood or is frightening. Or, it could be because of their memories. Or it could be a bit of both. To explain...

I hate swimming!

Let us use the example of your child hating swimming. That's it, they just hate it. The night before the day they have swimming at school, they become both very tearful and argumentative. You ask them why and the answer is always the same "I hate swimming".

With what you understand about your child's CVI, think - why do they hate swimming?

Clearly the teachers would not expect your child to do anything where they were at risk.

So have a home talk and discuss it openly...

Talk about swimming going right back to when they started to hate it. What can emerge may be a chain of really difficult events, one happening after another with school swimming, for example:

a crowded bus to the pool
a packed changing room with cluttered clothes pegs and bags and clothing strewn everywhere
the loud echoes in the pool area with random screams from children
being required to (in your child's brain terms) jump off the side of a cliff.

They have not mentioned actually swimming yet! Swimming is not the problem here. The real problem is not an irrational hatred of swimming, but a number of different things associated with school swimming that are stressful, difficult and frightening. How many things do you like doing that are stressful difficult and frightening?

Swimming in terms of your child's memories may have become a bad thing however, something to be avoided. So what can you do?

With what you have learnt, possibly you could suggest swimming when:

you will take them on their own and always be there
you will pick a time when you know it is quiet
you will help them into the pool
you will stay very close all the time

And you may find they...

Love swimming!


You need your detective hat on for this, because you are trying to figure out the cause of an irrational behaviour.

The first important thing to note is that it is not irrational. You may not (yet) know or understand the cause or reason, but one exists, somewhere. Some may be easier to find than others. The swimming example was quite straight forward but others will be more tricky.

We are all affected by our very early memories, so the difficulty with swimming for example, may lie even further back, maybe as a young infant your child slid under the water in the bath leaving them frightened. This is something they may not remember, so can't explain.

We know of many children who had multiple medical appointments, treatments and interventions in their very early years, who seem to have an irrational hatred of hospitals and clinical environments, which can extend to opticians, dentists and therapists.

Other examples include the many children we know who have an irrational hatred of anything near their face, including a hairbrush, face-cloth or tooth brush (let alone hairdresser!).

None of these are irrational.

Irrational = We don't know why.

To help your child move on from these 'irrational' positions:

  • 1. You need to understand this is serious to them. It might not seem much to you, but it is important to your child so you need to respect that.
  • 2. You need to ensure your child knows you understand and respect this 'irrational' behaviour, and that you take it seriously.
  • 3. Always try to involve your child in your plans to help them, like with the swimming. Don't force them, just let them know a possible alternative that might work for them and ask their opinion.
  • 4. Ensure your child always feels in control - with swimming they might say 'No' several times, then go, but want to go home after only getting to the changing room. That is fine, it is progress. The next time they may get a little further and eventually, hopefully, into the pool to enjoy swimming. You child is progressing one little baby step at a time. Your child is progressing.
  • 5. Be prepared to sometimes let things go - discuss this with your child - how important is it?

This apparently irrational behaviour is a cycle your child is trapped in.

Remember, tiny baby steps with your child in control.

Further reading
Gordon Dutton's blog 15 - explaining the small steps approach
Guide for Parents - page 13 and 14 show the steps to change a negative cycle to a positive cycle


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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.