CVI, Language & Learning
Is CVI 'just' a visual impairment?
For those with typical vision, the world is experienced through their five senses of vision, hearing, sight, smell and taste, supported by other brain systems and memories.
Where did those memories come from? They arose from previous experiences, and have built the great walls of knowledge in your mind, so you can do all the things you can do. And as you continue to experience the world, these memories continue to grow.
What about children with CVI? Is it different for them?
Let us imagine a ten year old child called Sam who has had CVI since birth.
Sam experiences life one thing at a time, she always has. If that one thing is complicated, for example the human face which is extremely complicated in brain processing terms, then she can only process a part of it at a time.
That 'one thing' is not just visual for Sam, she can't look and listen at the same time. If Sam is really thinking about something, she sometimes can't look or listen, especially if she is stressed or upset. Quickly Sam can become overwhelmed, and it is like her mind just can't cope and everything shuts down, leaving her either crying, screaming or in a little ball. We described these accounts as CVI Meltdowns, and from explanations parents have shared with us they seem to be very common.
Sam is thought to have some learning difficulties.
In class, Sam can't keep up, so she is considered a slow learner, and as she gets older, she is getting more and more behind her classmates.
At home, with time, and space, and her parents' understanding that Sam needs to learn one thing at a time, Sam shows that she is an intelligent girl and a very able learner. Sam just can't seem to learn in school....why might that be?
At home, Sam's parents realised that it is not enough to just understand that Sam needed to learn one thing at a time when she is calm and relaxed. The language used is also important, because Sam has an unusual understanding of language. For her there are lots of little things that made no sense, like when Sam's mother was about to dry her hair, and Sam was asked to pass her the brush, Sam went and got the broom from the kitchen. Another time when on holiday, they talked about going into the town to get some shopping, and Sam started crying. They couldn't understand why she was so upset, having been enjoying the holiday, until they sat down together and really talked about it. Sam didn't want to be difficult, and she knows she gets confused so doesn't want to feel silly either. 'Town' was a place near home, where all the shops were, and when her parents suggested a trip to the town on holiday, Sam thought they meant the town near home and that their holiday was over, which is why she started crying. Town means only one place to Sam, she has yet to learn that there are many towns.
Already, aged 10, Sam does not want to feel stupid or to embarrass herself. But Sam has not learnt language typically, because her CVI has affected how she learns... one thing at a time.
Sam correctly learnt what a brush was, the kitchen broom is a type of brush. Children are not explicitly taught wider more complex meanings of words, and with CVI, even simple words like brush and town can be misunderstood, or not fully understood..
There is a world of knowledge children are expected to pick-up, around language. CVI can make this very difficult, or even impossible for some.
Sam's parents now spend time every day just talking with her. They have been amazed how many little things, like the brush and town, Sam didn't completely understand, or had misunderstood. They were thrilled to find out what an incredibly able learner Sam is, when they make learning accessible for her, which is not just one thing at a time, but also using language matched to what she understands.
Sam's brain has developed for ten years with CVI affecting her learning and language development. When Sam sees something, she is not only experiencing it with a visual impairment, but also with an impaired recognition process, because of the language and learning challenges she has encountered throughout her life. These are all of course interconnected.
Through understanding this, Sam's parents are making learning accessible and part of this entails teaching Sam language.
Is CVI 'just' a visual impairment? No, much more than vision is affected.
Do we agree with the statement "Sam is thought to have some learning difficulties"? No. Not at all! When learning was inaccessible, Sam did not learn. When learning was made accessible, Sam could and did learn. This is the case for us all.
Please find a few minutes to read our page and watch the films about life 'One Thing At A Time' to understand how a child like Sam, can fall behind, and without understanding, can be inappropriately labelled as 'learning delayed'.
The CVI Scotland Team
PS Everything new can be found in our Updates section, and via Twitter @scotlandcvi and our Facebook page.
In this issue...
Your generous donations will be put to immediate use in supporting our charity...
At CVI Scotland we are devoted to helping people understand cerebral visual impairments, and together working towards developing the understanding of this complex condition.