Not Looking to Listen (1)

Not Looking to Listen (1)

To help explain this we have followed the example of a young lady we know called Heather. This is a real example, however the underlying reasons and suggestions are widely applicable for many children with CVI.

Background for example:

  • Heather is 17 and has CVI (low visual acuity, dorsal stream dysfunction and lack of lower visual field
  • Heather is yet to speak, but is well aware of what is going on.
  • Heather was recently observed closely at home by her mum and a case worker.
  • Realising that Heather processes information slowly, the caseworker stood still in her uncluttered room near the window at the foot of her bed and talked in a slow sing song voice about what she was doing.
  • At first she sat facing him. She glanced up at him briefly and they exchanged eye contact from about 1.5 metres.
  • Then she looked up to her right, at a blank area of wall to continue listening.
  • Her eyes did not look around and scan.
  • Next she deliberately turned her back on him, and sat still, as he continued to talk about her in a slow sing song voice.
  • Three or four minutes later she slid off her bed and sat behind the case worker, looking up at the back of him in fascination for another 5 minutes of so.
  • No-one had stood still, and communicated slowly in this way before.

Behaviours Associated with:

Presumed Reasons:

  • Previously when Heather had turned away, this had been interpreted as no longer listening, so people may stop engaging with her, when actually she was trying to listen.
  • But many children and young people with CVI prefer to turn their backs to listen.
  • Previously at school when Heather had sat on the floor, she had been moved to a chair. But Heather has marked lower visual field impairment. By sitting on the floor and looking up, she is studying the whole person. Try putting your hand across the bridge of your nose to block your lower visual field, then you will see that the best way to see is to place yourself in a low down position and look up.
  • If someone approaches Heather quickly she can be startled, this could be the effect of looming. Heather has figured out that most people more forwards, and the safe place to sit, to study them, is behind them. This way Heather is able to listen, which is what she is trying to do.

Suggested Actions:

  • When speaking, ensure what is said can be perceived and understood, which may include speaking more slowly, or only using single words matching what the child is attending to, depending on the language development level of the individual (see one mothers account for more information).
  • Continue engaging with the person even if they are not looking at you, and may seem to not be interested.
  • Learn the person's signs for genuine disinterest, boredom or irritation, and let people know, so that they can also continue to engage where it might not be obvious that the person is paying attention.
  • Re-create these more optimal listening environments.


  • Some may be uncomfortable with children or adults lying or sitting on the floor, thinking it may look disrespectful or perhaps degrading. In our view by allowing the person to position themselves in their optimal learning position, their rights and needs are being respected.
  • Some may feel uncomfortable engaging with another person with their back to them. We talked about 'Normal' in our first newsletter, this may be their normal, and to help them develop and learn, we have to go there.


  • Heather behaves in ways that help her make best use of her ability to interpret her world.
  • It is easy to misinterpret behaviours of people with CVI from our way of seeing, and not theirs.
  • We need always to find out as well as we can, how everyone with CVI sees, and to view their behaviours with the understanding that this knowledge brings.
  • Imagining we are looking out through the eyes of the person with CVI is arguably the best way of doing this.


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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.