Helping Visually Impaired Kids

One of the toughest things about pediatric medicine is that children can’t always tell you what is wrong with them, nor do they realize something is wrong in the first place. This is the case with a little known visual problem in children called Cerebral Visual Impairment (CVI). Children suffering from CVI aren’t always aware that they have a problem and more often than not their parents aren’t quite sure what is wrong with their child because CVI can result in behavioral issues for children when the act out because of their impaired vision. Their behavior is not always connected to the fact that their vision is distorting their view of the world and therefore their ability to perform even the simplest of tasks such as walking up stairs. CVI is a condition where there is a communication breakdown between a child’s vision and the messages within the brain. The result is that a child is unable to make sense of what they see. However, pioneering work by a Glasgow nurse is making early diagnosis of CVI much easier for parents and doctors. 

CVI Getting More Attention

The problem with cerebral visual impairment is not necessarily with the long term vision of the child but with their early development due to their distorted view of the world around them. In many CVI cases there is little deterioration of the child’s actual vision itself and as they get older their visual problems can improve. However, while they are still young and dealing with CVI, their lives can be very difficult and frustrating. Now the work of Catriona Macintyre-Beon, a nurse specialist at the Greater Glasgow and Clyde’s Visual Impairment Center, is making the diagnosis a little easier while at the same time producing simple and easy guidelines for parents and schools in the hope that they can improve the quality of life for children suffering from CVI.

CVI Background

Children with CVI will display many telltale signs of this disease but it isn’t always clear that they have visual problems. They may have trouble getting up and down stairs, picking out toys, watching television or movies, or even being aware of what is going on around them because the images they are seeing are moving much more quickly than they can handle or discern. The details of their visual field become completely distorted and can lead to many different behavioral issues because of the frustration of not being able to get a handle on what is going on around them.

Ms. Macintyre-Beon’s work includes creating an assessment tool that will pick up CVI earlier in children by using a precise interviewing methodology to track behaviors displayed by a child and possible links to their vision. According to Ms. Macintyre-Beon the damage to a child’s vision center of the brain can occur at various times in a child’s life, but this damage is not always well-understood. She also notes that this damage can occur as early as when the fetus is in the womb due to an infection in the lining of the womb. Once properly diagnosed the child’s family, teachers, and other caregivers are better able to assist the child and to provide a better quality of life for them.

Help for CVI Children

Coping strategies for children with CVI are the best way to help them  through this difficult time in their lives. For instance, when CVI issues lead to behavioral problems for a child in school something as simple as the buddy system for the child can eliminate the behavior issues and the resultant problems in school. Children with CVI can feel isolated while in school and can also be the victims of bullying because of their not fitting in with the other children. A buddy helps both the CVI child as well as the buddy, as they learn valuable life-lessons about helping their fellow students.

Another way to help CVI children in school is with the introduction of tilted desks and the enlargement and optimal spacing of text and by trying as best as possible to reduce visual clutter in those parts of the classroom where most of the teaching takes place. At home, Ms. Macintyre-Beon recommends using neutral colors for walls, carpeting and furniture and by keeping wall ornaments and pictures to a minimum in the rooms used by the child most. This is another way to keep their field of vision a little more free of “visual noise” that is at the heart of the problems displayed by CVI children.

Moving Forward

Ms. Macintryre-Beon is in the process of applying for a research project grant to continue her studies and to create even more comprehensive interviews with parents of children that have been diagnosed with CVI or who might be displaying behaviors most commonly found in CVI children. She firmly believes that an early diagnosis and rehabilitation strategies combined with a change in attitude of parents and teachers of CVI children makes a great difference in the child’s self-esteem and this will lead to affected children no longer being criticized but understood and helped.

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