Good morning fellow families of radiant children who happen to have a diagnosis of cortical visual impairment.
Today, Rheanon’s mom, Jennifer tells us about her curious, joyful, 10-year-old daughter. She also shares her frustration in her attempts to get Rheanon access to her educational environment.
Image: Rheanon, a smiling girl standing behind her brother draped over a reverse stander.
Image: A smiling family (Mom/Jennifer, Dad/Greg, brother/Chase and Rheanon) in their Sunday best standing outside in front of a fountain on a green lawn.
What does Rheanon like to do? What makes her laugh? What are her favorite activities? What do you like to do as a family?
Rheanon is a happy go lucky little girl! She loves to take care of her babies (all 15 of them) and she absolutely loves when she gets to hold a real baby! She likes to snuggle with and talk to both me and her father. She likes to watch Daniel Tiger on PBS as well as play with her Daniel Tiger characters. Her favorite episode is “The Baby is Here”. She can recite the words and sing the songs.
She has the most infectious laugh and most anything silly will make her laugh. She especially likes when we say the wrong thing, such as mixing up Aunt and Uncle. We tease her about loving hot dogs and opening her own hot-dog restaurant because she does not like them at all, she is also not a fan of white socks or my favorite local pizza shop.
We like to spend time together as a family, playing games such as Zingo and Sequence, reading stories, & visiting family. In the summer, Rheanon loves to go for walks. Her favorite thing is to go to the local amusement park, Knoebels. She likes the spinning, fast moving, belly tickling rides.
Image: Rheanon and her brother, Chase. She is wearing a Start Seeing CVI t-shirt.
When did you learn about CVI? How were you given the diagnosis?
We learned that Rheanon had CVI when she was 1 year old, but we didn’t get a diagnosis until she was 2 years old.
We knew that she wasn’t ‘seeing’ when we brought her home from the hospital but the doctors in the NICU said it was because of her prematurity. In time, we were told, she would be fine.
After a few weeks at home, I learned of the Infantsee program. I took her to our optometrist who said the said the same thing, “Delayed Visual Maturation”.
When she was 6 months, she was diagnosed with Infantile Spasms. All of our energy went to stopping the seizures. With an aggressive neurologist, special diets, and heavy duty medications, she had her last seizure 5 months later.
At this point, we were working with Early Intervention and had an in-home PT and Teacher. Early Intervention referred us to Blind and Visual Services. BVS then got us an appointment with an Optometrist in State College. It was there that Rheanon was diagnosed with CVI.
But, we needed a diagnosis from an ophthalmologist.
The first ophthalmologist gave no credit to the optometrist or the diagnosis. He said we should, “take her to the mall to look around.”
We went to Will’s Eye in Philadelphia for tests to rule out everything else.
My child, who we adopted, who we weaned off of drugs, who just got done having steroids and hormone injections to stop her seizures, had to be sedated so they could hold her eyes open and rule out all other diagnoses when an optometrist diagnosed her correctly (and immediately) months before.
They ultimately gave her the CVI diagnosis.
We got a TVI after that, though very few CVI strategies were ever put into place. I didn’t understand it and her team didn’t understand it and there was not a push or a requirement for them to do so.
I took her to the Overbrook School for the Blind for an outreach program. Overbrook staff told us how smart she was and how much she would be able to learn.
I took her to Altoona where a team of teachers and therapists from the Western Pennsylvania School for the Blind met us to evaluate her. Most of her Early Intervention team came along – PT, OT, TVI, O&M, Teacher and EI director. We learned some strategies, but once we returned home, no one knew how to continue.
We had 2 assessments by Dr. Roman at WPSB and then 2 more assessments by a TVI after Dr. Roman moved on from that program. I would bring the assessments back home to the team but nothing ever came of them.
Rheanon is a smart girl.
Dr. Roman said at one meeting, “she is making you think she can see more can.”
Rheanon is now 10. She attends her neighborhood elementary school and is in the third grade.
Her recent assessment with Dr. Roman puts her at phase 2 on the CVI Range.
I think that the members of her team are excellent teachers and therapists.
However, I do not think that they are knowledgeable in CVI, therefore I do not think that she is being supported properly.
I feel like I keep bringing things to the table to help and they keep getting pushed aside.
I feel like they are squashing her potential.
I feel like they don’t think CVI is affecting her.
I feel like our team has fallen apart.
I feel completely alone in the fight for her.
I am fighting for her right to learn. Her right to learn in the way she needs to learn.
And I don’t understand why this is so difficult.
I refuse to let her down, so we push forward. We may lose old friends but we gain new ones.
Rheanon doesn’t always interpret things correctly, most often its people that she misinterprets. White haired ladies are grandma, tall men with deep voices are our neighbor Howard…
She knows her sight words well, but she struggles to read sentences.
Image: Rheanon’s brother, Chase, leans over an IPad and traces sight words for his sister.
Her memory though – Holy Cow – I may never have to buy another planner.
I joke that she can work for the CIA someday because her questioning is persistent and she will find the hole in your plan.
Image: Rheanon, a smiling girl with short hair in a red sweatshirt.
I won’t look back again with regret that we didn’t do everything we could.
And, Jennifer is changing the way Pennsylvania serves its children with cortical visual impairment. She knows a thing or two about advocacy; She works for the Arc of Pennsylvania. (If you have never heard of the ARC, look it up. There should be a local office near you. They are there to educate, support and fight for you and your child with special needs.)
Jennifer has also paired up with another mom to offer presentations about how to work with children with Cortical Visual Impairment to local early interventionists. Can’t wait to hear how those presentations are received!
Thank you, Jennifer, for sharing your family and your clever and tenacious girl with us!