This morning’s Moms on Monday is Archer’s mom, Cheyanne, a passionate parent advocate and fellow blogger. Cheyanne started a blog about life with her beautiful boy Archer at http://www.sparkingtheneurons.blogspot.com.
Hello, my name is Cheyanne. I am a mother of a stunning, recently turned 4-year-old boy. His name is Archer. We reside in northeastern Nevada, with the ever important dad, and supportive husband Brandon.
Today I will be sharing some experiences to shed light upon advocacy for Cortical Visual Impairment. But first you need to learn a little more about what is so stunning about Arch!
He loves to be outside, even when it’s below freezing! Some of the things he loves are finding and throwing rocks, digging in the sand and dirt, and catching rays of sunlight. While doing all these fun things, his eyes are often closed, held at half mast, or his head is turned away from the actual action occurring.
The exhilaration of sounds, be that animals or vehicles provide a rich auditory experience sometimes creating little giggles or a deep focus, searching for understanding of the origin. Did I mention all the tactile opportunities an outdoor experience provides?
He enjoys sitting at the edge of a door and being a “gate master” opening and closing the door. Now there are many sensory needs he is meeting here. Including the need for movement, a CVI characteristic!
Recently over holiday break, he was frequently requesting to go outside. We began giving him the prompt of “stand-up and look for the round, gold, door knob.” By golly, there he went up on his own, standing against the door looking for the gold, door knob to twist, and open the door so he can go OUTSIDE! His treasures being with his peers, be that at weekly music class, preschool, or going on playdates.
What makes him laugh the most, deep into his belly is his DAD! Whether they are playing with balls, particularly his soccer ball, Elmo, snuggling and singing songs, or on the ground wrestling, his dad is the one to bring out a true authentic laughing session.
As a family we enjoy our down time together. We find it important in keeping a routine for Archer. Music, friends, school and the red garland lining his babysitters hallway are all important to him. After you finished reading this blog post, I invite you to jump over to his blog and read more stories about him growing into life, by visiting http://www.sparkingtheneurons.blogspot.com.
The day I learned about CVI will be frozen in my memory forever, at least in this lifetime. After months of neurology appointments, weekly EEG’s, and daily steroid shots to get infantile spasms controlled, it came time for our 3 month follow-up Ophthalmology appointment.
It was set to be the second time meeting with this particular doctor. At our first appointment he instantly gained Archer’s attention by making bird sounds! Connecting with our little one meant the world to us and made way for us as parents to relax, slightly! He took time to review the big, scary words that had been entering our life, as label after label kept adding up to be included on intake paperwork.
As parents we decided, that I could handle the “routine follow-up” on my own, and daddy went off to work. Archer and I stopped by the jobsite before the appointment and got a good luck hug and kiss from daddy, then off we went.
After asking some questions I thought were routine…
Does your son like to look at ceiling fans? Does he like to look out the window? Does he ever cover his eyes as if to block out what’s going on around him?
I answered yes to all of these questions.
I added that the red crab on his mobile seemed to catch his eye and make him smile. I explained how we thought it was cute that he blocked his eyes, and joked that was him showing he wasn’t interested in the person trying to “goo-goo-ga-ga” over him.
If you have some knowledge of CVI your light bulb is glowing right now.
And NOW, I know what those questions were leading to.
The delivery of a one-page fact sheet on Cortical Visual Impairment and a referral to the state school of the deaf and blind.
I didn’t understand and was having a hard time letting this information be processed. The doctor re-assured me I would be contacted shortly to get further assistance from the deafblind school. I was in shock, so much shock that emotions were not even present.
I was blank.
I thanked the doctor and assistant, walked out into the lobby to make the routine follow-up and exited the building. Once getting to the car, I slipped into the back seat to breastfeed, my now hungry, fussy baby.
Feeling was coming back to my brain and body. The hollow pit in my stomach started to burn, to pound, and to get tight all at the same time. I knew this was something big, but didn’t quite know the capacity this “new” label would have on our lives.
I decided to comfort myself with some lunch at a local pizza place. Carrying my baby into the restaurant, I quickly ordered and headed to the bathroom to change Archer’s diaper. Now with a full belly and clean bottom he dozed off to sleep.
I slowly unwrapped the folded single piece of paper and began to read. Disbelief struck as I read the tell tale signs of this diagnosis. My throat went dry, paired with my lungs expanding with deep, wide breaths to keep it together in this public place, not wanting to wake my sleeping child. I asked for a to-go box and paid for my food in a cluster of oblivion.
Again, I sat in the backseat with my stunning boy, admiring the silence of his sleep. It was then time to make the hour long drive home. I called my mom to let her know the appointment was over and that we got some news, but that we could talk about it later. I got on the road. Continuing with the wide, deep breaths, I made it through town and onto the interstate.
This is when the floodgates overflowed. I had to pull off at the next exit and take some time to cry it out.
Cortical Visual Impairment joined the list of diagnoses on this dreary last day of July in 2014.
Archer was just shy of 7 months old. At this point his diagnosis list consisted of the following: agenesis of the corpus callosum (ACC), uncontrollable seizure disorder, infantile spasms, periventricular grey matter heterotopia (affecting the occipital lobe), enlarged bi-lateral ventricles, hypotonia, and an undiagnosed genetic syndrome, now determined to be a duplication on his 11th chromosome.
Archer’s team began building in Montana beginning with his primary care doctor and LPN. They stood by our sides and listened to us when we came in for our routine 5-day, 2-week, 6-week checkups. I lost count after that. We knew from the MRI that challenges would be in our future. These two ladies supported us in hoping for our family to have normal, loving experiences with our newborn. They helped us cherish the newness of parenthood and celebrated with us our stunning little boy.
Quickly, within weeks of Arch’s life, the discussion of which specialist to start with arose.
Those dreaded developmental checklists began. I didn’t get to give many checks in those days, I resorted to drawing smiling faces and our doctor kindly accepted this display of grief.
I quickly stopped reading my “What to Expect the First Years” book, I think by 8 weeks in.
Vision began to be a question I’d say around 4-6 weeks, when my little boy just wouldn’t look me in the eyes while breastfeeding. Occupational Therapy started by 3-4 months of age. He seemed to like the solid red ball. He would turn away with items displaying combinations of colors and patterns. The typical over-stimulating newborn toys! Physical Therapy services also started during the Spring of 2014. Yet, there wasn’t emphasis on incorporating strategies to work with his lack of visual engagement.
In August of 2014, we were connected with the state school for deaf and blind and had our first home visit, Archer was 7 months old. APH materials started coming, including a light box. Our biggest struggle was figuring out how to position either Arch or the materials for the best visual access.
We sheeted parts of our home in black fabric, Grandma’s too. We built a little black room for Archer to “play looking” in! It felt as if everything was being forced and nothing came naturally. We lined his highchair tray with black and adhered red duct tape around the edges. We put up a black tri-fold board at the dinner table, or anywhere he was exploring to reduce complexity.
All of these supports had been set-up, before we even opened a case with the state early intervention program. We were ahead of the curve!
By this point there was a never-ending amount of tabs and bookmarks constantly open on my phone and laptop. My new “hobby” of researching was overtaking my mind. Once the official “Cortical Visual Impairment” diagnosis sank in, we began seeing CVI, learning the 10 characteristics. Surprisingly with CVI being the #1 leading pediatric visual impairment in first world countries, we felt like the experts. Even more knowledgeable than most of the service providers, including neurology and ophthalmology, besides our TVI!
Our TVI was calm, quiet, gave wait time, and slowly educated me. She intervened with Arch without overloading him. He began to look at the big yellow bird puppet as she slowly moved it to identify strong visual fields. He started to look at mylar on the light box! She had been asking me questions that I didn’t always have answers to. For some I had clear definitive answers! Over a few visits I found out this was her slowly conducting the parent interview questions from Dr. Roman’s CVI Range! It was overwhelming at the time, but set a solid foundation for us to grow from. We found a conference to attend with Dr. Roman and had his first CVI range conducted.
Then we moved to Nevada, a state that is about 30 years behind the curve in vision supports. They have ocular VI knowledge, just not neurological CVI. It wasn’t taught in their VI programs.
I was the solo expert of CVI on the team. It felt like I was the solo expert of CVI in the state.
Goals and strategies were set and CVI remained at the forefront of services. There was consideration for most characteristics, besides the most in depth concept of complexity, especially sensory and auditory. He gained visual skills, but his auditory reactions were heavily out weighed. When items were presented with noise and banging he was sure to look.
I’ve heard Dr. Roman say over and over “vision must precede the action” and sadly this was not the case. The providers were open to learning, yet their caseloads were stacked so high it left little down time for “extra” learning outside of the home visits.
Archer transitioned out of EI in Jan 2017, we had the transition meeting, but his seizures returned and we choose to deny services until the Fall. This gave us time to get his health understood before adding more over stimulating situations.
Upon entrance to the early childhood center in Fall of 2017 I learned I was not doing enough to advocate for my child’s needs.
Advocacy begins in your home, with our family and friends. It is all too easy to clam up and keep quiet. Sometimes feeling like you are explaining things over and over, then these people are close to you so offense is taken. The challenge exists consistently.
Fear overtakes you when meeting the milestone of another person becoming the teacher of your child. And for most of us, the services list is long, and teams are big, making advocacy more daunting. You can feel like you aren’t a part of a team but the outsider.
Mouths drop when I mention CVI accommodations, maybe because they can’t believe I’m requesting, or because the knowledge to understand CVI just isn’t there.
The team listens, it just takes awhile for the concepts to be put into practice. I initiated a CVI schedule built around his school day. I requested a CVI endorsed team member and CVI Range assessments. They are all willing and open to learn, in fact 3 team members are expanding their knowledge by taking the Perkins 8-week CVI course! We must start somewhere and that is with our voice as our child’s advocate.
Looking back at our short journey of 3.5 years with CVI, in the beginning I wish I would have put more emphasis on latency. Waiting longer for him to visually engage. NOT impatiently providing auditory cues just to get a reaction.
If your child has recently been identified as having CVI, first, just breathe. Then cry. Then go outside and take a refreshing walk. Allow yourself to cycle through the grief.
Get connected. You may not understand the language, you will feel like you are studying to become a Ph.D. Your head will feel like it explodes, not on a daily basis, but possibly with each paragraph you read.
Keep going. Ask the questions.
Ask service providers what their knowledge and understanding of cortical visual impairment is. Ask if they have ever worked with a CVI student. You are not alone and your child has the right to receive appropriate CVI interventions.
For people that have never heard of CVI, may you know my child sees.
Cortical visual impairment creates challenges with the neurological visual processing of images. To help him understand his environment, use simple language to identify what is going on. He is always listening. There is no need to be loud or make extra sounds. He will giggle at abrupt sounds. Help him connect the sound with the visual components by explaining what he is hearing or seeing.
It is my hope you have read to the end!
It is my dream you will share this knowledge with others and keep the conversation going about this underserved population of children with CVI, the #1 pediatric visual impairment in 1st world countries.
Sharing a blessing… Help spread his soulful message
Thank you Cheyanne for your courageous storytelling!