Good Morning Fellow CVI Families,
Part of starting a blog called CVI Momifesto was to build community between families facing similar challenges, but separated by distance and/or too busy to find each other. We can learn from each other. We can support each other.
I asked several CVI Moms I know if they would be interested in sharing their stories in a regular post we will call Moms On Monday. If you are interested in sharing your story as well, please email Info@cvimomifesto.com, so we can begin the conversation!
Our first Mom on Monday is Jessica Marquardt from North Carolina. Welcome, Jessica! And, thank you.
Summer was turning to fall in North Carolina, and our neighborhood was out in full force for the annual picnic – a time to catch up with neighbors we hadn’t seen for the season, or perhaps even a year. My daughter (we’ll call her G) is an enthusiastic kindergartner who is learning to write. She traveled from guest to guest asking if they needed a nametag and, if so, would they spell their name so she could be the one to write it?
On three separate occasions, neighbors approached my husband and me to tell us how much G had grown. Not in stature (well, that too), but specifically in maturity and independence. She was actively approaching people to engage in conversation and, as one neighbor put it, “seems happier in her own skin.”
Sounds like your typical, outgoing five-year-old. But there’s a catch. With cortical visual impairment (CVI), G doesn’t recognize faces. She walked up to my husband to ask him if he wanted a nametag. He mouthed, so as not to use his voice, to the neighbor next to him to ask G who she was talking to. She had no idea.
Yes, my daughter has CVI. She can’t interpret the illustrations in her favorite story book and can’t pick me or my husband out of a crowd until we open our mouths. But I’d say she’s fortunate. With a diagnosis of CVI, her vision can improve.
We have been told that of the 90 kids in our county’s school system with CVI, she’s the only one on a standard course of study.
She’s in her neighborhood school in a general education classroom and she receives services from a TVI, O&M specialist, OT and adapted PE. That she is so capable brings its own challenges. She wants to keep up; she wants to be with her peers. However, just like all kids with CVI, she needs specific interventions and supports to ensure that she can. And she needs a team that can stay a couple steps ahead of her to ensure it is prepared to meet her CVI needs.
How did we get here?
My daughter was diagnosed with CVI at eight months old. She has CVI due to a vascular event of unknown cause that occurred in utero or during early development. We have access to stellar medical care and early intervention services, yet no one told us that there was an opportunity to improve G’s functional vision. It took a trip to Omaha to the Conference on Pediatric Cortical Visual Impairment for us to begin to understand the opportunities and challenges. G was four by then – we’d lost four precious years of maximum neuroplasticity.
Armed with newfound knowledge, we traveled to Pittsburgh to see Dr. Christine Roman who conducted The CVI Range to assess G’s functional vision. We read textbooks and articles, watched webcasts and talked to other parents. We asked our school system about its roadmap for training teachers in CVI and related techniques. We asked specifically for a CVI Range Endorsed professional to be a part of G’s IEP team. There aren’t many out there, so our school system couldn’t promise to provide one. So we hired one privately. After meeting G, she began to work with us on a consultative basis, answering our many questions and making suggestions for how we could start to do the right things for G to make gains with her vision. We asked our private OT to join us in taking the Perkins e-Learning course on CVI with Dr. Roman. She agreed wholeheartedly, and our CVI Range Endorsed consultant is now her mentor on appropriate CVI interventions. They’ve made a wonderful team, even though the mentor lives many states away.
That’s the positive outlook. But it hasn’t all been rosy. We don’t live in an area that is ahead of the curve on CVI. We’ve had to educate ourselves and become a broken record for the cause. In less than a year, we’ve attended 30 hours of IEP meetings, plus hours preparing for them.
During one meeting, I felt compelled to text my sister. The exchange pretty much sums up my feelings on IEP meetings:
ME: Still in meeting and dying with stress. Please pray for me.
SISTER: Oh, I’m so sorry. Sending love and calm and prayers.
ME: I’m dying. I might be having a heart attack. Haha!
SISTER: ☹ I’m sorry!!
There have been sleepless nights (I’m a worrier). Tummy aches. Anger. Anger at doctors, the school system and myself for not knowing. For not jumping up and down and sending up a flare to say “Hey, her diagnosis is CVI. We can do something about that.” It’s a tough moment when you realize that no one will advocate for your child like you will, and if you don’t, your child won’t have all she needs to access the curriculum. Honestly, I could write a full post on IEPs, so we’ll save that for another time.
Here are my top three musts on your journey as a parent or guardian of a kid with CVI:
1. Get a CVI Range done by a CVI Range Endorsed professional. You need a score to know where to start intervening. This is non-negotiable.
2. Attend the Conference on Pediatric Cortical Visual Impairment. It changed my world to meet fellow parents and CVI knowledgeable providers (from both medical and education fields). I found “my people” there and learned a ton. You will too. You must get to Omaha.
3. Put together your advisory board. Some will be CVI experts, some will be your cheering section. My husband and I credit ours for molding us into CVI advocates over the past year and a half. We’d consider the following people to be members of our advisory board, and I highly suggest you start to think through who you can call for advice and support: Dr. Roman, our CVI Range Endorsed consultant, our private OT, our special education lawyer, various members of our family (you saw the dramatic texts my sister receives from me in the middle of the day) and other parents of kids with CVI who we’ve met along the way.
After a summer of intentional work on CVI-based interventions with our enthusiastic OT (who has taken some Perkins training and is being mentored by a CVI Range Endorsed professional), our daughter has improved by a quarter of a point on both Rating I and Rating II of The CVI Range. That’s on par with our expectations for a three-month period, and we believe in the hard work that it takes to get there (another topic that warrants a blog post). We expect more improvement as kindergarten continues and are heartened by what we see anecdotally.
G’s visual curiosity is growing and, as a result, so is her ability to access her world.