Good evening, fellow CVI families! It’s still Monday! We here at CVI Momifesto like to keep you on your toes.
Today I heard a quote that resonated with me.
“Anger is inevitable. It’s what you do with it that counts.”
This quote made me think of the CVI moms who are organizing and moving mountains for their children.
Jasper’s mom, Brenda, is getting a lot done with her anger. I salute her.
If you have done any research on cortical visual impairment online or on social media, you have probably found the blog Start Seeing CVI and the companion Facebook page. You may have heard about a CVI Advocacy Call recently hosted by the American Foundation for the Blind – the first national conference on advocacy for children with cortical visual impairment. (Editor’s sidenote: This call was a big dang deal.)
If you were on Facebook this month you may have seen this –
Image reads April is CVI Literacy Awareness Month
You may also have run across pictures of remarkably attractive children and their mothers wearing this t-shirt.
Image: Black t-shirt with Start Seeing CVI and the 10 CVI characteristics
And, what if I told you all of these amazing efforts were the result of one dynamic, unstoppable mom?
Yes, it’s Jasper’s mom, Brenda from Washington. She graciously answered questions I asked her about Start Seeing CVI, the motive behind the famous t-shirt, and just how she was able to make April CVI Literacy Awareness Month and September CVI Awareness Month.
Why I started Start Seeing CVI
When you are raising a child who has cortical visual impairment (CVI), the lack of awareness, and education, and knowledge of CVI is one of the hardest lessons. My son Jasper was diagnosed with “cortical blindness” at one week old. The birth to three experience was spent learning about CVI and explaining it to his many providers. For a short time, as a baby, he had a “vision educator,” who was trained to identify a vision issue and knew a little about CVI but not nearly enough. Through birth to three years, my son never had a regular teacher of the visually impaired (TVI), and we live in a major city, Seattle. In a way, it was better, because his early intervention team was willing to learn and listen to me and there was no TVI ego to contend with. That changed with his transition to the public school system.
The original Start Seeing CVI t-shirt was created in 2014 during Jasper’s first full year of preschool. He was in Phase II CVI, as scored by Christine Roman. His TVI did not want to make any modifications to materials to give visual access to my son with CVI. It did not help that the young special education teacher backed him up. When doing anything with Jasper, you have to think of his cortical visual impairment first. You have to think about the CVI ten characteristics first. How could the school team not see that? And how could I get them to think about his CVI? Do I need to send to him to school with a note pinned to his shirt every day?
And so I created the t-shirt. How could they miss it now?
Image: A boy lying down with his arms covering his face wearing a Start Seeing CVI t-shirt
The Start Seeing CVI blog came a little later, from that same place. It evolved from my original blog – writing about the experience of raising a child with special needs – to writing increasingly about having a child with cortical visual impairment.
Nobody knows about CVI because nobody is talking about CVI. Nobody is talking about our kids.
Look around, on social media, nobody is talking about CVI. You can find Helen Keller quotes and Braille topics by the dozen, but nothing on CVI. No CVI graphics or quotes or memes. The organizations that serve students who are blind and visually impaired, and are supposed to serve our kids with CVI too, are not talking about CVI. American Printing House for the Blind (APH) is a good example. To look at social media, at a place like APH, you would think that most people who are blind or visually impaired are Braille readers. But the reality is more like five to six percent. Cortical visual impairment is the leading cause of visual impairment in our kids; they comprise the biggest portion of the demographic. But nobody is talking about our kids with CVI.
Perkins School for the Blind is talking about CVI and asking the critical question, What more can we be doing for students with CVI? And that is likely due to a few things, including their relationship with Christine Roman.
CVI has been around for a few decades now, you can find it in the medical literature as far back as the early 1990s. Nobody knows about cortical visual impairment because nobody is talking about cortical visual impairment. I wanted to change that.
As I travelled around, attending CVI conferences and trainings and workshops (I do not take vacations) and meeting other parents, our stories were the same. My child’s providers have not heard of CVI. My child’s providers do not know enough about CVI. My child’s TVI is not knowledgeable about CVI. It was not just my experience, it was the universal experience of CVI parents all across the country. I hoped that writing about CVI, and writing about Jasper, might bring both better understanding and awareness of CVI.
There is also so much misinformation out there around CVI.
Especially some of the online groups that are supposed to be about support, I avoid them. Even some websites or CVI “fact sheets,” if you happen to be given one. It is so important that CVI parents have information, but it is even more important that the information be accurate.
Not everybody out there who is teaching you about CVI is qualified to do so. Stick with the experts, not the people who are trying to sell you something. Providing accurate information and resources is a huge priority on my blog. I have no interest in debates around cerebral vs cortical. It is an old argument and does not serve my son, or any family trying to get support for their child with CVI.
Why & how I was able to create two months of awareness
(“Not 1 CVI Awareness Month…2 CVI Awareness Months!” – CVI Momifesto )
Since fall I had been trying to find a home for a CVI advocacy conference call. There were about six different conversations going on, with different people, parents, providers, and I wanted to get everybody together and on the same page.
American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) was willing to take a chance, and last month, in March, was the first ever national teleconference on improving education services for students with CVI.
Awareness and education and knowledge need to increase across the board – from diagnosis, to early intervention services, to public school, neurologists, occupational therapists, ophthalmologists, orientation and mobility specialists, pediatricians, physical therapists, special educators, speech language pathologists, and teachers of the visually impaired.
It has got to start with the university teacher preparation programs. I say that as a person who was enrolled in such a program, and they were not teaching cortical visual impairment or the CVI Range.
My son’s diagnosis of CVI is not optional, and teaching CVI is not optional.
On the AFB call, the universities made a lot of excuses, and yet the University of Massachusetts Boston is teaching CVI, and the CVI Range, and has a dedicated and required courses on CVI. So it is possible. My son deserves providers who are proficient in CVI, and so does every other child with CVI. And it has got to be somebody who will be at the IEP table. Our kids not only deserve this, they have a right to it.
At the same time, we are focused on APH. In January, APH posted on its social media account about their plans to “Make Big Things Happen” this year for students who are blind or visually impaired. And there was not one word about cortical visual impairmemt, and how they would “Make Big Things Happen” for students with CVI. I almost let it go – but instead I commented, What about our kids with CVI, you won’t even make the CVi Connect app a quota fund product for them. My comment did not go unnoticed. In a short time, MaryAnne Roberto commented from Pennsylvania, and Gunjan from Pennsylvania, and Anna from Ohio, and Riley from Oregon, and Rachel from Maryland, and Rebecca from Virginia. The comments from CVI moms kept coming.
A group of us came together around that experience. We are committed to improving things for our children with CVI. We are raising our parent voices on behalf of our kids.
And this is just the beginning.
If you are a parent or provider of a child with CVI and want to lend your voice, you can go to Start Seeing CVI Advocacy or the Start Seeing CVI Facebook page to learn more.
Image: A smiling boy in glasses and wearing a hat with a wide brim and striped shirt.
Thank you, Brenda and Jasper! Thank you, Brenda for your courage and your tenacity.