What is CVI?


Sad or Stressed (Non-Verbal Children)

Non-verbal children show their emotions like sadness, worry and stress through many different behaviours including:

  • withdrawn / quiet
  • crying
  • shouting / screaming / wailing
  • hiding
  • throwing things
  • hurting others e.g. pinching or biting
  • hurting themselves e.g. knocking head or hitting themselves

How does your child show they are sad?

Can you tell the difference between your child being sad or worried or stressed?

What about when your child is sad because they are worried or stressed?

Your non-verbal child does not have the language to explain how or what they are feeling, or why. This is why your expert knowledge of everything that is your child is so incredibly important.

Your child may not have the words, but can still react with sadness, worry and stress when:

  • they are missing someone, maybe you?
  • their routines have changed, so they are feeling unsure about things
  • they feel like someone has not been very nice to them, maybe rushed them, or your child may have picked up on a different tone of voice or the way they were handled.
  • they have been forced to stop doing something they were enjoying

These all sound like quite complex feelings and you may perhaps think they are beyond your child's mental capacity, but they are not. All we have done is give them words to help explain them. These feelings are hard wired and we all experience them, with or without the words to explain.

You as the parent have to do a lot of figuring out what is going on and what might be wrong, which often won't be obvious. As you love them most and know them best - you are by far the best person to do this.

Through the points below we are going to review the list of behaviours (above), and try to explain them from your child's perspective:

Withdrawn / Quiet

  • Becoming withdrawn is something I can do for all sorts of different reasons, which can include when I am distracted or there is too much going on around me, or I might just be tired. It can also be because I am worrying about something, or upset about something.
  • Please...think. Why am I so quiet? Am I upset? Is there something different going on that might have affected me?


  • By crying I mean with tears, and it may be just a few trickling down my face or I may be sobbing. There may be a lot of things I can make myself do, like yell and bang things, but I can't produce tears unless I am really upset or in pain.
  • Please...whatever you are doing, my crying needs to take priority, as something is wrong and I need your help right now, Firstly check there is nothing physically hurting me, it might be something you haven't noticed, then comfort me for as long as I need. Whatever upset me so much needs to be understood and resolved.

Shouting / Screaming / Wailing

  • So I am making a lot of noise! And you know my happy noises, and can tell the difference. This is my way of telling you, as clearly as I can "Something is wrong!"
  • Please... I know this is not nice but my voice has been designed to touch a nerve with you, that is part of our incredible parent child bond, and it makes me almost impossible to ignore, I know that, it is why I am yelling, because I need you. Why? You need to work it out and help me, but this yelling is not nice for me either. Maybe use the word 'Help' because that is what I want and need, and what you will be giving me. Practise saying it slowly so that all the sounds of the word are heard, and when I yell or scream, come to me and say help. Next time, when you come to me and say help, I know that you are going to, well, help me, and that can calm me more quickly.


  • I may be physically hiding, or I may be trying to hide my face with my arms or by pushing my face downwards into my chest.
  • Please... this could be one of two things. I might be saying I need a little space right now, and if that is the case, when you come to me, I am likely to react by trying to push you away. Or, I might need you to be in this space with me, or help me out of it. Approach me gently, slowly and calmly. I may be hiding because I am frightened of something you might not be aware of, so please be careful.

Throwing Things

  • First check that I have definitely thrown something and not accidentally knocked it over. If I have deliberately thrown something, think...what am I trying to communicate to you? I can't tell you with words so what is my action trying to say?
  • Please...think...what I am trying to communicate, maybe it is something related the the thing I have thrown, like some food I don't like and am expected to eat. Or, the thing I have thrown may be completely unrelated to how I am feeling, it just happened to be near me and I may be feeling very frustrated about something else. Or, I may have found that people ignore me unless I throw things, and then I get their attention, so it works. Might that be it? If so, understand that by throwing things I am asking for help. You could use the word 'Help' (see shouting, above), I might not be able to say it, but if I understand it, I might become calm more quickly. How else can I communicate with you when I need help - think of the things I can do and help me learn to ask for help in other ways.

Hurting Others

  • I might pinch people, or pull hair or bite. This is something I have learnt to do - but why?
  • Please...think about how this behaviour developed and when. Inflicting pain is a very effective way of getting attention, and it was very easy to learn, and it might be that I don't know how to stop doing it now. It may have become a habitual way of communicating. Firstly, I don't really want to hurt you. I probably don't really understand what hurt is, but you need to be protected as I get bigger and stronger, and need professional advice from a clinical psychologist or specialist therapist. Remember they are unlikely to have much knowledge of CVI, they definitely won't know me and their training would not have included CVI, so you need to be able to explain me and the way I see to them.

Hurting Myself

  • This could be hitting my head on a surface, of scratching or pinching myself, or other ways of inflicting pain upon myself.
  • Please... understand that this is a really tricky area, and while I may not be able to talk, I can definitely really hurt myself, so you need to get professional advice, maybe from a clinical psychologist or a specialist therapist. But with that, you need to explain as much as you can about me, as very few professional have much understanding about non-verbal children with CVI, and none has the training they need. I could be trying to get your attention. I might like it. I might be exploring my own body and senses. It might be something I can control when every other part of my life is controlled by other people. Please get help, but please also make sure you are able to explain everything that is so special about me, so we don't get the wrong advice and help.


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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.