What is CVI?


Pick & Mix , Non-Verbal Children - Introduction

You only need to look at topics relevant to your child.You only need to look at topics relevant to your child.

Welcome to our Pick & Mix Selection!

You only need to look at topics relevant to your child.

In the following sections our aim is to provide a CVI Pick & Mix Selection for you.

We invite you to take an imaginary shopping bag along to our selections, to pick (by clicking on the links) issues you think are relevant and ideas you think may help the child with CVI whom you support.

Our 'stock' is made up of ideas and suggestions, picked up over decades of working with people with CVI and their parents and carers, teachers, doctors and therapists, who've shared their experiences, so others can learn.

These sections are intended to meet the needs of the most complex children with CVI, who have learnt to communicate just a limited amount. Such children may be able to communicate only with a yell, a smile, a laugh or a cry.

Whilst this is written with parents and carers in mind, it is also relevant for all supporting someone in this group.

This is not about teaching your child to talk (click here for more information about methods to teach language to non-verbal children with CVI), but in our suggestions we will sometimes mention the repeated use of clearly spoken meaningful single words.

What do we mean by 'non-verbal'?

The term verbal comes from 'verb' which originally (in Latin) meant word. So, no words.

Words are both:

  • Spoken (spoken words)
  • In the mind (mind words)

Mind Words
Words in the mind are what you are processing right now, as you read this. We are communicating with you, so while no words have been spoken, the words you are reading give a message to your mind. Mind words also label things. Without these word labels, learning becomes very difficult, and so it is not surprising that commonly, for children:

The greater the language disability, the more severe the learning disability.

CVI Scotland

Learning and language go hand in hand because to learn we need labels. Look around you and see what you could understand without the names (labels) of things. Words are the most effective labelling system, for everyone, including profoundly disabled children because:

  • Most people everywhere use words
  • Once learnt, the word will always stay inside your child's mind
  • Words can be developed, so one word, e.g. 'milk' can grow to 'milk cup' or 'milk drink', and so learning develops
  • Words don't need any special equipment

Your child does not need to be able to speak a word to learn its meaning as a label - we are going to show you how.

Non-verbal means that words have yet to be learnt, but not that they can't be learnt. There are few if any conditions that mean a child is incapable of mentally learning words, even if they are never spoken

Words as Labels
Some of the approaches we suggest mean using a word as a label. Think of each single labelling word as a sort of coat-hook in your child's mind. On that hook we are going to hang their experiences linked to what we are trying the help with.

Over time, if the word is used consistently in the same way to label the experience your child is having, they can learn it. In our repeated experience, in this way, even the most profoundly disabled child can learn to understand more.

For the new learners...
In our individual suggestions we will give more specific guidance and examples, but generally, when introducing a new word, remember your child needs:

  • Plan - a planned singular meaningful event ready to label with a word.
  • Quiet - All you want them to hear is that one word.
  • Calm - you want to be somewhere uncluttered with minimal movement.
  • Happiness - They need to be in the right frame of mind, so happy and content.
  • Slowing - Slow the word down, like speaking at a slow speed.
  • Sounds - All the sounds - remember to make sure each and every sound in the labelling word is very clearly spoken.
  • Known experience - the word needs to label something or an activity your child already knows
  • One new thing at a time, that's how your child's mind may work, being able to add only one new thing to something already known, that one new thing is the word, so...
  • Single - The single key word only (if pictures, signs, songs, object signifiers or other words in a sentence, are added at the same time, then that could well be too much for your child to learn).
  • Consistency - always use just the same one word, and ask others to do exactly the same, but only matched to the specific experience.
  • Repetition, repeat repeat and repeat, and get everyone else to!

Very simply, the thing your child already knows, exists in their mind as a memory. You are trying to create a new linked memory for a single labelling word and to build a pathway between the event and the word in your child's mind, so that your child can connect the experience and the sound of word together. From this we can build further. This is just how you learned, from a very early age, how to do pretty much everything you can do - now it may be time to teach your child in the same way you learnt as a child, but with greater simplicity.

In the middle group...
We know there is an enormous group of children who have learned some words, but their language and communication skills are not typical for their age. If your child is in this group, you may find that the ideas in this section, and the main section (Pick & Mix) are useful.

There are three sections, to help you pick out what your child may need:

  • 1. Personality - to help you identify your child's needs related to their personality and behaviours (this section)
  • 2. Labels - Your child may have been given labels as descriptions or diagnoses. Here we explain a little about what these may mean.
  • 3. Activities - lists of specific activities, in the home, school and at play, giving simple suggested ideas to help with difficulties caused by CVI.

Next Page: Personality, Non-Verbal Children.


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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.