Good morning fellow moms and dads of delightful children who happen to have CVI,
Today’s MOM is Lola’s mom, Meredith from Indianapolis, Indiana.
Meredith has become a super advocate for her daughter and for young children with visual impairments in Indiana and Kentucky. She is one of the driving forces behind Visually Impaired Preschool Services Indiana (VIPS Indiana), a non-profit agency that provides ongoing, best practice early intervention for infants and toddlers with severe vision loss. She is also one fierce rooftop hockey player.
I got to meet Meredith and Lola through VIPS Indiana when Lola was a baby. It is hard to believe that she will be 7 in January.
What does Lola like to do? What makes her laugh? What are her favorite activities, foods, etc?
Lola loves to do most anything that involves being outside. She loves parks, playgrounds, swimming pools and she especially likes to help walk the dogs around the neighborhood.
Lola adores her brother although sometimes she doesn’t understand what it means to give him space so she easily annoys him. Their relationship is much like any other sibling connection; they love each other one minute and are fighting the next. Lola especially likes clothes and shoes. We never really knew if Lola could identify colors since she can’t articulate it, but it has become very clear that yes she can absolutely differentiate colors as she hates pink and purple! She wants to wear blues and greens much like her brother. I’m so proud that she can now take off and put on her own clothes—I just wish she’d stop doing it 18 times a day!
Lola’s father makes her laugh like no one else. Now that she is paying attention more to her surroundings, she’ll start laughing when she sees or hears us laughing and the next thing we know—we are all laughing hysterically and we don’t really know why! It’s very sweet!
Lola loves almost all food but her favorites are cookies, pizza, chips, grapes, spaghetti and cereal bars. She doesn’t care for raspberries or watermelon. I wish her weight reflected her love of food—we’ll keep trying to get some meat on her bones though!
What do you like to do as a family?
As a family, we like to find playgrounds that are visually accessible for Lola. It’s sort of become a weekend hobby which is fun because we have learned where to take her and where to stay away from. She really needs high contrast in order to keep from getting bumps and bruises. We try to not keep her in a bubble since the world itself is not Lola-safe, but when she is on a playground that is all brown—for instance—she really struggles.
We also like to go to places like Monkey Joe’s or sensory-friendly gyms. Lola’s ability to sit and partake in an activity with us has increased dramatically over the last year so we’ll play her favorite game which is Hungry Hippo and she likes to color as well as play with Play-Doh. She also loves going to her grandparent’s house so many weekends are spent with them as well.
When did you first learn about CVI?
You know, I had a feeling something was wrong with Lola’s vision from the very second I laid eyes on her after she was born. I was always told that we would immediately lock eyes which indicated, “I am yours and you are mine” but Lola never looked at me. I gave birth to Lola in Costa Rica as my husband and I were living there at the time. My nurses didn’t speak any English so I wasn’t entirely sure what to ask.
Lola’s Apgar scores were perfect and the OB-GYN assured us that Lola was a healthy baby girl. We took her home and waited for the eye contact to kick in, but it never did. She sort of looked over our heads as if she was looking at a ghost standing behind us. She also wasn’t reaching for toys and she wasn’t tracking. My mother’s instinct kept telling me something was wrong and I was right.
Lola started to have infantile spasms when she was four months old and treatment to get the seizures under control began immediately. I started researching other symptoms associated with infantile spasms and I came across cortical visual impairment (CVI). When I read the characteristics, I knew right away that Lola had CVI.
How were you given the diagnosis?
As I mentioned Lola was diagnosed with infantile spasms by a neurologist in Costa Rica who was incredibly knowledgeable and supportive. When Lola was about seven months old, Dr. Luna gave Lola the CVI diagnosis yet we were less than shocked as we already suspected she had CVI.
Does your child have other diagnoses you’d like to mention?
Lola has an extremely rare genetic condition called Bosch Boonstra Schaaf optic atrophy syndrome. There are only about 40 in the world with the condition although as genetic testing becomes more available, researchers believe several hundred will be identified. So I thought Lola just had these two conditions, infantile spasms and CVI, I did not realize they were actually “symptoms or characteristics” of something bigger. As it turns out—they are. Lola’s seizures are under control, but she still has CVI, hypotonia, global developmental delay, nystagmus, autism, and more. She sounds complex and I suppose she is, but to us—she’s just Lola.
How was your child’s Early Intervention experience with regard to CVI?
Are you ready for a shocker? After Lola completed her steroids for the infantile spasms, she was immediately referred to a therapy clinic. When we first walked up to the house (which looked like any other Costa Rican house), I immediately wondered 1) if we were in the right place and 2) how on earth would anyone in this place be able to help my baby? I was grossly mistaken as we met Lola’s very first physical therapist, Moises.
At Lola’s very first appointment, Moises stood at a whiteboard and explained exactly what CVI was to us—graphics and all! It was so comforting to have this information even as upsetting as it was. I learned right then and there something that has stuck with me at every turning point in this journey and that is; knowledge equals empowerment. When you give me information, I feel confident that I can do something with it. And so Lola began to see Moises once a week for PT, but working on her brain “learning to see” was always an integral part of her therapy sessions. She also began to see the occupational therapist, Melissa, who again, challenged Lola’s visual pathway during every single session. We couldn’t have asked for better providers during those early months and we are forever grateful.
Were your providers knowledgeable? Were they open to learning?
Moises and Melissa were more than knowledgeable when it came to CVI. They didn’t have to learn a single thing because they truly understood how CVI was impacting Lola’s development. It was rather impressive especially for being in a foreign country.
So as wonderful as the healthcare system was for Lola in Costa Rica, we knew that long-term it would be better for her to live in the U.S. We moved back to Indianapolis when Lola was just under a year-old. We immediately enrolled her in First Steps, Indiana’s early intervention system.
In First Steps, we had access to a PT, an OT and a speech therapist, but when I inquired about who would be helping us with Lola’s vision loss, I was told there wasn’t really anyone. I called around and found that information to be true and, ultimately, very shocking. How could we have better therapists for Lola’s vision in Costa Rica than the United States? It made no sense to me. But I wasn’t going to give up as I knew how important the first three years of Lola’s brain development was so I persisted until I found someone to help. I met Annie Hughes who was a Teacher of Blind/Low Vision and she worked for Visually Impaired Preschool Services (VIPS), a nonprofit that provides early intervention to young children with vision loss. Vision-specific home visits began and I finally felt as if we found exactly who we were looking for as Ms. Annie was more than knowledgeable!
How do you feel CVI is addressed in your child’s school setting?
Lola attends an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) center called Access Behavior Analysis in Indianapolis. While the therapists at Access had not worked with a child who had CVI prior to Lola, they were more than open to learning about it and how to set Lola’s environment up so she could thrive. After some lacking in the public school system, Lola will now have access to a Teacher of Blind/Low Vision who will consult with the center so that everyone understands Lola’s vision loss and how to make the proper modifications for her vision.
What do you know now that you wish you had known at the beginning of your journey as Lola’s mom?
This is a good question. I guess I wish I had let go more. That probably sounds ironic given that as a special needs parent, we may never truly let go, but I wish I didn’t worry myself sick so much. It was all so unknown and unexpected, but Lola was my baby so how could I not worry?
I just wish I would have spent less time immersing myself in the internet and more time enjoying Lola for exactly who she was. I wanted answers though. I wanted to know what her future looked liked. I always wanted someone to look in their crystal ball and tell me that Lola was going to be OK and, of course, nobody ever could. Sure I still worry, but I’m not debilitated by it. I acknowledge that some days will be tough, but they are few and far in between now and I’m very grateful for that.
I also acknowledge that CVI is not the only reason why Lola is delayed. Sure it is part of it, but I have now recognized that Lola is delayed because of her genetic condition. When she wasn’t walking at the age of three, I’d say, “She’s not walking because she’s visually impaired.” Now, I know that children who are completely blind can still walk even at an early age. I just wasn’t really willing to accept that she will always be delayed in some way, but that doesn’t mean she stops progressing. We celebrate the big, gigantic milestones as well as the tiny, most wouldn’t even notice inchstones! They all matter to us!
What would you tell a mother whose child has just been identified as having CVI?
You are not alone is the very first thing I would say. I think I would say please try your absolute hardest to not compare your child with others who have CVI (or even neuro-typical kids as well) as it’s just not healthy for you. I would also say that it does get easier over time. I remember when the ophthalmologist said Lola was legally blind and I about lost it, but what I realized is that Lola was still Lola. Those few extra words didn’t change a thing in that very moment. And honestly, having diagnoses will give your child access to MORE therapies and services. But I used to worry about CVI every day when she was little and now it’s not the first thing on my mind when I wake up. In fact, it’s the one of the last things I think about because CVI is just a part of our lives now.
What would you like for people who have never heard of CVI to know?
I would probably give them my normal CVI spiel about what CVI is, that many times CVI can improve over time (Lola can now see something as small as a raisin on the floor), that even though Lola’s vision has improved she still struggles greatly with her vision, and I’d like them to know that I have no idea how Lola sees the world. I’m willing to give just about anything to have a glimpse of how Lola interprets her surroundings, but I realize that may never happen.
Anything else? Hopes and dreams?
I think we are inundated with what society believes “success” of a child is. It means straight A’s, Honor Roll, graduating from high school, going on to college, finding a love to marry, having children, finding a career, and lots of other stuff in between. I’ll admit that I drank the Kool-Aid, too. When I was pregnant with Lola, my dreams for her were different than what has become her reality, but it’s OK.
Success for Lola means she’s happy, healthy, she loves, and she is loved. That’s all I want for her. Well, I kind of want her to move out someday, too, so I can catch up on nearly seven years of interrupted by Lola sleep!! But in all honesty, I just want Lola to be in a safe environment where people who know and love her look after her. I’m often asked if Lola will live with us forever and my immediate response is “HELL NO!” Now that’s not because I wouldn’t want Lola to live with us until the day I die, but how unfair would that be for her? She’s only six and she already wants to be out of the house so imagine when she’s 22. While she has her challenges, she knows she wants independence and we are going to honor that. She will always need help, but I will die more peacefully knowing that I have her support system in place so that she can live life without me. That’s so hard to write and perhaps I’m sharing too much, but my job as her mother is to think about her future. And Lola’s future will include lots of caring people because it does indeed take a village the size of China when you have a child with special needs.
Thank you Meredith and Lola!