Today’s Mom on Monday is Will’s mom, Maggie. Will has a smile that will brighten your day. Maggie has experience, wisdom to share and a “can-do” spirit that has taken them all over the country.
Introduction: Maggie, mom of Will, age 9. We live in Feasterville, Bucks County, a suburb of northeast Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
What does Will like to do? What makes him laugh? What are his favorite activities? What do you do as a family?
Will is a very happy, very social, very adorable redhead who has a smile that makes you smile when you see it. If you get him giggling you are certain to laugh, too. He has always loved music. I remember him lying on the hospital bed the day after he was born, all bundled and ready to make our journey home. Only his face was exposed. I put my face close to him and quietly sang “Somewhere over the Rainbow” to him. He quieted and just “stared” at me while I sang. From then, whenever he is fussing or restless, he will still quiet, or calm, when I sing to him.
We also loves water. He is very discerning though because the water must be warm. He wears his life jacket and we put ankle weights on, which allows him to bob in the water upright. He loves the freedom of kicking and moving in the water.
Image: Will in a life jacket with his dad in a pool
Another activity we do is traveling! This boy is very well-traveled. We estimate that he has visited 16 states and DC. He has traveled coast to coast and north to south on around 2 dozen flights in his action-packed 9 years. We decided early on that we would not let his challenges keep him from experiencing his world. He is a great traveler both by car or plane.
Image: Will, a smiling red haired boy
We travel with Will’s stuffed friend, Cordy Roy, who gets a photo shoot at every location we travel to.
Image: Will’s stuffed toy, Cordy Roy, next to a Bedford County sign
Image: Smiling Will in a wheelchair in a van
When did you first learn about CVI? How were you given the diagnosis?
We knew something was wrong when Will was about 1-month-old. He wasn’t tracking us with his eyes and he wasn’t smiling in response to our facial expressions. He had an unfocused stare. Not long after, we began our journey of discovery. After several tests, we found ourselves at the neuro-ophthalmologist at CHOP who gave us the official diagnosis of CVI. We were fortunate that he was diagnosed very early without any resistance from our neuro-ophthalmologist.
We began consulting with Dr. Roman early. We started seeing her every 6 months for a few years. Now we visit her annually. So, we were luckier than many and have known about CVI for a long time.
How was Will’s early intervention experience with regard to CVI?
We already had begun learning about what CVI meant through our early intervention TVI, MaryAnne Roberto. We were so fortunate that she was assigned to Will and had a lot of knowledge about CVI. She pointed out Will’s behaviors that supported the diagnosis. She helped us create an environment that accessed Will’s vision. She was also instrumental in linking us to Dr. Roman in Pittsburgh. We started seeing her every 6 months for a few years. Now we visit her annually. With our neuro-ophthalmologist, MaryAnne, and Dr. Roman, our knowledge of CVI and the world of accommodations began.
Image: Will with Dr. Roman-Lantzy and his dad
Does Will have other diagnoses you’d like to mention?
Will lived in the land of “undiagnosed” for the first 5 years. We had many diagnoses – global developmental delay, seizure disorder, failure to thrive requiring a feeding tube, non-verbal, non-ambulatory, CVI, hypotonia, microcephaly, cataracts – but no overarching name of the cause.
Genetic testing in first year was inconclusive. When he was 5, we decided to revisit genetic testing. In March of 2014, we received the call that our son has a rare genetic disorder called FOXG1syndrome.
FOXG1 syndrome is a spontaneous genetic mutation that affects approximately 300 children in the world. Neither Will’s father nor I have this error, but when we looked at the characteristics of the syndrome – love of water, love of music, CVI, feeding issues, seizures – Will’s picture could have been posted next to the definition. A diagnosis at last!
It did not change our interventions, but it did give us a group of parents who are also living with the consequences of FOXG1.
How is CVI being addressed in Will’s school setting?
CVI in school has been a different story from our early intervention experience. Our early intervention team embraced the CVI interventions that MaryAnne shared so generously. It hasn’t been so easy in school. The vision team is not educated in CVI. They have been resistant to learning about it and adapting Will’s materials. After 2 years with few adaptations and the purchase of a communication device by the school district, we have finally put our feet down and said enough is enough. They cannot continue to work without making vision a priority. So this year’s IEP reflects a lot of changes. With the assistance of an advocate, we had a CVI endorsed TVI come in and complete a new CVI Range. The score on the range revealed a loss of visual literacy. That led to new goals and a significant increase in vision service time. Sadly, the vision team still does not share my sense of urgency. This is an ongoing source of friction. It’s heartbreaking since we really want to have a better relationship with our TVI and Will’s vision team.
What would you tell a mother whose child has just been identified with CVI?
I would say two things to other moms.
First, do not give up. Do not despair. Your child knows your voice and your touch. He/she knows you even though they don’t seem to acknowledge you. With time and training, your child WILL see you.
It was a momentous day when Will looked at me and “saw” me! He now has more than 12 feet of functional vision and can most likely see farther.
The second thing I want parents to remember is to presume competence! I have found over and over that Will surprises me with what he knows and can do! Set the bar high, work hard, and be amazed with what your child will do!!!
What would you like for people who have never heard of CVI to know?
Other people should know that CVI is a vision impairment that is neurologic in nature. With time, patience, and specific interventions and accommodations, vision can be improved! If a child can achieve a certain place on the CVI Range, he/she may sight read. If that is achieved anything is possible for that child!
What are your hopes and dreams for Will?
Our goal for Will is to be the best Will he can be! We don’t know what that is yet, but he is still full of possibilities! We will continue to work and help him achieve his greatness!!!
Image: Smiling Will wearing a Start Seeing CVI t-shirt
Thank you Maggie for sharing your journey with your handsome, red haired, well traveled young man! He IS full of possibilities!