Good morning fellow families of resilient and adorable children who have cortical visual impairment!
This morning we have the pleasure of hearing from Logan’s mom, Barbara.
Photo: Barbara, a woman with short dark hair, She holds the right arm of Logan, a little boy in a shirt and tie who is held by his father, Leo, a tall man with dark hair. They are all smiling.
When we first spoke, my intention was to ask Barbara the questions that other moms have been kind enough to answer for earlier Moms on Monday posts. As any parent of a school-age child with CVI knows, it’s still IEP (Individualized Education Plan) season. That means CVI moms and dads across America are buying Tums in bulk and putting lawyers on speed dial in their never-ending search for a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for their children. (It’s the law, by the way.)
We didn’t get around to the questions during the first conversation because Barbara’s focus (like so many other parents of school-age children with CVI) is making sure his school team understands that cortical visual impairment requires accommodations throughout the day, extra training for staff, and modifications for school materials.
“Every obstacle that has been put in front of him, he has overcome.”
Photo: A little boy in a green t-shirt and sports glasses. Smiling broadly, he is missing one of his front teeth.
Logan is 5 years old. His mom and dad recently attended the transition IEP meeting to prepare for his kindergarten placement. The school team proposes placing him in a self-contained classroom for visually impaired children. Barbara would like Logan to be placed with his peers in an inclusive setting with appropriate support. She would like to tell them to “stop putting my round peg in your square hole.”
According to Barbara, this year the focus is to make the school system understand how much they don’t know about CVI. They can try to contest the CVI Range, but they are required to give him ACCESS to his environment.
“We need him to be independent. We don’t need them to feel sorry for him and think ‘Poor thing.’ We don’t want them to assume that he will never get a diploma. At the end of the day, he’s going to have to function in the real world.”
A teacher at the proposed placement told Barbara, “I’m not trained in CVI. I’ve never had a kid with cortical visual impairment.”
At the IEP meeting, Barbara was told, “Our teachers aren’t required by law to become CVI endorsed.”
She replied, “But, you are required by law to teach my son.”
And, this, fellow parents, is where we find ourselves in IEP meetings across America. Our children exhibit some or all of the 10 characteristics of cortical visual impairment. They require assessment so teachers will understand how our children use their vision and to plan accommodations to help them improve their functional vision.
The assessment is the CVI Range (Dr. Christine Roman). The CVI Range was validated by the research of Dr. Sandra Newcomb (Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 2010).
Our children’s vision can improve. This is an issue of accessibility not disability.
Logan is currently non-verbal. Over the past 6 months he has learned how to communicate with an AAC (Augmentative Alternative Communication) device. During the meeting, Barbara requested that Logan’s teacher receive training in how to use AAC devices and how to communicate with children who are non-verbal, but this training was not added to the IEP.
In response, the school system requested that Logan be assessed through an educational evaluation by a psychologist. Barbara, his mom, is also a developmental psychologist. She explained to the school team that psychoeducational assessments are not appropriate for children with visual impairments. (See post: Death by IEP / Why Formal Assessments Do Not Work for Children with CVI or other Sensory Loss)
Barbara would like a teacher who understands cortical visual impairment and how Logan communicates with his AAC device.
What I want educators to know about Logan.
“Logan enjoys a challenge. He never gives up. I want educators to know that teaching Logan is about giving him ACCESS to his education.
I recently saw a video of a mother whose daughter has cerebral palsy. The mother explained how hard it was for her daughter to get her body to do what she wants it to do. She said that people often misinterpret difficulty – the physical difficulty of getting your body to move the way you want it to – for an intellectual disability.
Logan has overcome every challenge placed in front of him. One time, when he was a baby and still not sitting up yet, I heard him laughing in another room. I went in to see what he was doing. He was laughing because he had gotten himself into a sitting position all by himself. From then on, I knew that laugh meant he was up to something. He doesn’t give up.
School is supposed to offer him the least restrictive environment, not the most restrictive environment. At the end of the day, he is going to be in the real world. I want him to have experiences in the real world and, for me, this means being educated along side typically developing peers.”
Introduction: Logan lives in Florida with his mom, Barbara, dad, Leo, and 3 siblings, Lauren, Liam, and Landon. Landon and Logan are twins.
What does Logan like to do? What makes him laugh? What are his favorite activities? What do you like to do as a family?
Logan is a very social kid. He loves to interact with other people both adults and children. He loves it when people play games with him and sing to him, especially interactive songs like Wheels on the Bus. He loves to play Peek-a-Boo. He enjoys when I go outside and surprise him by looking in the window. He is a very active kid. He loves to dance and to jump around.
We do all the stuff other families do. He goes where we go. We go to the pool, play in the yard, go to museums and Disneyworld.
Photo: Four children posing for a picture with big smiles. Three boys, Landon, Logan, and Liam in colorful checked shirts and dark pants. Their older sister, Lauren, in a red dress with a matching red bow in her long curly hair, stands in the middle behind Logan.
When did you learn about CVI? How were you given the diagnosis?
“Stumbling over diagnoses” has been a recurrent theme with Logan.
When he was 8 months old, he began sleeping a lot. When he woke up, his high-pitched cry was different than his usual cry. I remember taking videos of spasms that happened when he slept.
We had lots of doctor appointments back then since the twins were preterm. I asked about the spasms and the high-pitched crying. It wasn’t until we went to a new neurologist that we were taken seriously. The neurologist took one look at him and told me to go to the hospital immediately. He was hospitalized with Infantile Spasms.
I tried to get him enrolled in a special needs daycare through the state because he needed every therapy there was and my insurance wouldn’t cover it. It was a struggle to get him into the program even though he fit their criteria.
The head therapist suggested that I apply for Medicaid waiver funding for Logan. I told her we couldn’t because my husband works. She told me Logan had one of those diagnoses where he would be eligible.
“What diagnosis is that?” I asked.
She printed out a list of eligible diagnoses. One of them was cerebral palsy.
“He has this?”
I have gotten used to going against the grain.
When Logan was smaller, we decided that Logan should have a selective dorsal rhizotomy in the hopes that he would become more mobile. His physical therapists advised against it. After the procedure, he began standing and even learned to use a walker. He now walks without assistive devices.
The physical therapists are now recommending the procedure to other families.
Phote: Logan in a t-shirt that says “Little Explorer” walking with a reverse walker
A couple of years ago, I attended a conference on cerebral palsy and developmental medicine. It was then that I first heard about CVI. I thought, “Oh, this looks complicated. I don’t know if this applies to him but I have to learn.”
Logan had been followed by a pediatric ophthalmologist because he also has strabismus and we were patching. Yet, I had never heard about even the possibility of CVI from our ophthalmologist.
When Logan was 3 years old, I told our neurologist that I noticed things that didn’t “make sense.” I found it odd that TV didn’t interest him at all. His sister and brothers watched cartoons, but cartoons didn’t interest him. I wasn’t thinking about vision. I’m a developmental psychologist. I was thinking maybe the cartoons were abstract and his thinking was too concrete for them.
The neurologist couldn’t answer my questions. She said there were no studies on kids who don’t watch TV.
I took my newfound information about CVI to our pediatric ophthalmologist and asked him if it was possible that Logan had CVI. He said, “Yeah, he has that. I guess I’ll refer you to the Lighthouse for the Blind.”
I was floored. It was like receiving a cancer diagnosis. I didn’t know anything about CVI. And now, you’re telling me my child is blind and you’ve never told me this before?
I asked my pediatrician how long the diagnosis had been in his file. Apparently when Logan was 2 1/2 years old, the diagnosis was added to his file without informing me.
Anger wasn’t going to get me anywhere. I knew I had to learn. I found Dr. Roman’s videos on the West Virginia website (http://wvde.state.wv.us/osp/vi/cvi/cvi-special-topics.html).
How was Logan’s early intervention experience with regard to CVI?
We didn’t know he had CVI for 4 years. When I finally made contact with the Lighthouse for the Blind they sent someone to come work on a few things through the Blind Babies program. However, once he entered the Visually Impaired program within our local school district, the Blind Babies program closed out the case. In the school district, we were only give consultation services from the TVI.
Now that Logan is 5, the Lighthouse for the Blind is supposed to offer services for children with blindness and visual impairment. They offer blind children support with braille or technology 2 Saturdays/month. When I ask for services for CVI, I was only offered once a month.
What would you tell a mom whose child has just been identified with CVI?
First, I would say it’s not the end of the world. CVI is treatable. Their vision can improve.
You are not alone. I haven’t found any other moms here of children with kids with CVI. One of the things I have found is that Facebook can help you find a community and can help you find answers. For example, I found out that the Texas School for the Blind was holding a conference on Phase III with Dr. Christine Roman-Lantzy. There were grants for families to attend, but the families had to be from Texas. I asked our Lighthouse for the Blind and Division of Blind Services if there was grant money for this conference. They said no. I paid to go to the conference. I was grateful that TSBVI waived my registration fee.
At this conference, I got a lot of information. I got to meet Dr. Roman. I learned about the weekly CVI conference call sponsored by the Lighthouse Guild. I learned that there are TVI who are willing to learn about CVI and work with families to help them learn more about giving their child access to their environment.
What would you like people who have never heard of CVI to know?
CVI is a lot more common than you think. It is not a problem with his eyes. It is his brain. His brain has a hard time taking in visual information.
He is a very social kid. Still, I have to explain to people at school that when you see him smiling and waving at you, he sees you, but he doesn’t know who you are.
What are your hopes and dreams for Logan?
My hopes and dreams for him are the same ones I have for my other kids. To be successful in school, to have friends, to be the typical kid he is.
I have learned to quiet that part of me that says “He can’t do it. I have learned to quiet the skeptic in me. No one knows his potential. Including me.
I have to try.
It’s what moms do.
It is what moms do. Every day. Thank you Barbara for sharing your experiences. You have a beautiful family.