What is CVI?


Distracted (Non-Verbal Children)

By distracted we mean where your child may seem to find it difficult to stay focused on an activity or something they are doing. This could include when:

  • Working on a learning activity, at home or school
  • Eating or drinking, by themselves or with support
  • During personal care, including dressing and washing
  • Going somewhere, in a car, walking or in a wheelchair
  • Waiting
  • With some people (but not others)

Distracted or Seems Distracted?

There are a number of different possible reasons why your child with CVI may seem distracted. Here are some with suggestions, told from your child's perspective.

Do I sometimes, often or always appear:


  • There are too many different things competing for my attention, so I can't stay focused on any one thing - even if I really wanted to!
  • Please...reduce the noise, visual clutter, and movement around me. A single person talking in a different room can even be enough to distract my attention.


  • I'm not sure what you are doing or what is happening to me, I don't know what you are wanting me to do or expecting me to do, so I am just doing random things and hoping I might get it right.
  • Please...go back a couple of steps to things you know I am comfortable with and I know well, and start again, but build it up slowly. You know me, you know when something makes sense to me - don't move on until I am very comfortably at this stage. Whatever it is, and no matter how simple it might seem to you, it doesn't make sense to me.


  • This is really boring! I am doing what everyone does when they are bored, I am trying to either entertain myself, or get someone's attention to do something else and to stop doing this.
  • Please...you know what I look like when I am interested and engaged in something. Think about what we are doing, what about it might be dull for me? Am I waiting for long times with nothing to do? How would you feel?

Feeling vulnerable

  • I feel like you are forcing me to do something, I'm not distracted, I am trying to stop you!
  • Please...this might be something I have found frightening before, or because I don't know what is happening. I might be wrong, but right now you are really worrying me. Stop, and think about what you are doing and how you can reassure me.

Preoccupied (Discomfort)

  • My mind is dealing with something it considers more important than whatever it is you want me to focus on. I am not distracted, my mind has an order of needs, and right now, something else is considered more important.
  • Please....take a moment to think...might I be hungry, thirsty, need the toilet, are my clothes comfortable, might I be in pain and not able to tell you?

Preoccupied (Thinking)

  • My mind is somewhere else, so my not engaging with you is not a distraction, I am just thinking about something else....
  • Please...remember, even though I can't talk it doesn't mean I can't think and it doesn't mean I don't have feelings and it doesn't mean I don't worry about things. Think, is there something going on in my life that is causing me to be worried? Has something changed that might cause me to be anxious? What can you do to reassure me?

Preoccupied (Distracted)

  • Sometimes when there are a lot of distractions I can't help but jump from one thing to the next, because I have a 'one thing at a time' brain. Other times something will sort of 'grip' my attention and I can't get away from it. Note - bright light sources can be particularly distracting and disabling in this way for complex children with CVI.
  • Please...look carefully at what seems to have got me hooked, is it something I am looking at? Is it a sound? Whatever it is, because I might get a fright, try to reduce it, so that I can come back to what we were doing.


  • I'm not distracted, I am behaving this way because something is really scaring me.
  • Please...it might not be visible to you, but something is frightening me, it might be something or someone that has just slowed down, or it might be a lot of movement around me (that I think might hit me), there are lots of reasons I can become frightened.

Further reading

Looming and Causes of Frights

Attention & Its Calibrations


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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.