Moms on Monday #12 / Anna from OH

Happy Monday morning fellow families of glorious children who happen to have CVI,

This morning I am so glad to have permission to share the words and the works of a mother who has helped lay the foundation of the Pediatric CVI Society over the past few years.  She has made great strides in raising awareness about CVI in her local community through her creative fundraising methods. In addition, she and her oldest daughter, Olivia, have been active in changing societal perceptions of children with special needs.

Anna from Ohio is the mother of three beautiful, energetic children and a RN who teaches student nurses.

In 2013, Anna started a blog, Hope She Smiles (http://oliviacansmile.blogspot.com) to chronicle her family’s experiences after her daughter, Olivia, was born.  Anna gave me permission to repost some of her inspiring blog.

Thank you Anna and Olivia!

From September 2013

“Take her home and hope she smiles” was the quote from the Neonatalogist the day after our sweet Olivia was born. 

The question that I’ve been asking myself over the past week is, “Where do I start?”

Usually the best place to start is at the beginning, but historically I do not follow the path that is paved. In an attempt to answer questions that I am frequently asked by other parents of children with CVI is, I will focus on the present with the past sprinkled in.

In August of 2007, we didn’t know what Olivia’s future held. We heard news from the NICU team at West Penn Hospital that would change our life forever. After suffering seizures and apnea 12 hours after birth, she was life-flighted to Pittsburgh. Her diagnosis was massive stroke in utero, cause undetermined.

What did this mean for her, her development, and her quality of life? We had so many unanswered questions. As a nurse myself, I struggled with understanding what this meant for a newborn. I knew in that moment that I was not acting as a nurse, but as a mother. A mother? I had only been a mother for 24 hours and I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.

SO the present…Where is Olivia now?

With the help of Early Intervention; Occupational, Physical, Speech, Vision therapies, follow up appointments; and a new appreciation for special needs children we were on our way.

She is currently in Phase III of the CVI Range and I know all of the above, plus other things that I will be mentioning in future blog posts, have been instrumental in getting us to this point.

Her main diagnosis resulting from the stroke: Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI). Luckily we were connected with Dr. Christine Roman-Lantzy from the Pediatric View Program when Olivia was only a few days old.

(Dr. Roman) has taught us that the focus should be on her vision, because it CAN improve. This statement gave us extreme hope and determination.

Olivia is in Kindergarten now and is a social butterfly. She is extremely happy and energetic. She can not only smile, but learned to walk, run, jump, ride a bike with training wheels, swim with a life jacket, horseback riding. We have even taken her ice skating.

Our approach to her and her diagnosis is “Let’s try it” Sometimes it is a success and she surprises us beyond belief and sometimes it fails and we vow to try again at a later date.

I believe our nontraditional approach has led us to where we are now.

From September 29, 2013 post entitled “Hope”ful

Hope” she smiles…

The word hope was a word I used often in my life previous to the birth of my daughter:
I hope…we win the game.
I hope…I pass my test.
I hope…I make a lot of money.”

Hope” now has an entirely different meaning. My outlook has changed since my first 30 years.

It all changed when I heard those words, “Take her home and hope she smiles.”

Hope has given me the drive to seek out interventions and modalities that will improve Olivia’s life. It has given us strength when the road that we are on proves to be challenging and frustrating. It has secured my belief in the blessings of God.

Hope reminds me that no one is perfect, we all have challenges that we face. I am proud to be helping Olivia meet those challenges head on.

Hope drives me to find a way.

Hope doesn’t come without disappointments. I hope for her to see, talk, read and write like all the other kids. I hope for her to make lasting friendships. Hope-fully these accomplishments will just take a littlemore time.

Lastly, I need to mention what drives hope. What is the fuel that gives us hope? Only one word…LOVE

From September 2013 post A Whole New World

My occupation is an RN. Currently, I work as a course instructor at a school of nursing. My job is to educate future nurses. I spend hours preparing objectives, lectures, exams, quizzes and teaching on the clinical unit.

I admit that I feel guilty that I devote so many hours of the day educating others when I have a child at home in need of learning a basic function–sight.

I am concerned when I send her off to school will she be learning in an atmosphere and a way that CVI children need to learn.

I have to somehow learn to let go and entrust other people, other professionals, to do their job.

But do they really know about CVI and all that it entails? Are they good enough for my child? I believe every parent feels this way regardless of the situation.

I do understand how crucial these early years are in the development of her vision. It can improve. But how?

Traditional methods used for visually impaired children to learn do not work for children with cortical visual impairment. The educators need to realize this and be able…no, willing…to adapt her learning appropriately.

So my goal is to find that way. 

Bridging into Phase III on the CVI Range is a miraculous happening for my sweet Olivia. But the road through phase 3 seems to be a very complicated one. One that even the experts in the field don’t know how to conquer.

So I accept that challenge. I vow to find a way. My goal is for Olivia to reach a 10 on the CVI range. A 10 means that she functions as a child with no visual impairment would function. Why not? Why not attempt to reach for 10?

Remembering back to our NICU days about a week after Olivia was born, I remember one of the neonatologist saying to us, “Reach for the stars. If you miss, you have lost nothing.” This became our approach to Olivia and to her future.


Anna was instrumental in raising the funding that allowed the Pediatric CVI Society to achieve non-profit status.  Anna and Olivia have done some very creative fundraisers.  Even Olivia’s friends have risen to the challenge of supporting the PCVI Society.

In 2015, Anna’s efforts were recognized by the PCVI Society.  She was the first inductee to the PCVI Society Hall of Fame.

President Dr. Richard Legge said in his remarks, “Without ever being to a meeting, she dedicated herself heart and soul to making PCVIS a reality.”

I loved her speech about fundraising.  I think it resonates for many of us.

We fundraise for Olivia for a better future. I have a confession to make… The fundraising was completely self-serving.

I want better access to pertinent information about CVI. I want access to the professionals in the field. I want to know what the newest developments and research shows regarding CVI. I want to know the best interventions that can be used for children with CVI. I want it for myself and others in my place.

From the beginning of this journey I have been hungry. Hungry for knowledge, like most of you here. Parents, teachers of the visually impaired, speech therapists, occupational therapist, physicians, ophthalmologists… we are all want to be fed CVI knowledge. This society can feed us.
To start fundraising you first have to be willing to go out on a limb, get out of your comfort zone. Ask for donations. It can be scary, but jump in. We would jump into a pool to save our child if they are sinking to the bottom of the pool. We wouldn’t think twice. Jump in for our children. Save them.
Second; share your story, make a connection, and open up. Open up the dialogue with others about what CVI is. Keep your donors in the loop. Keep them informed of the ongoing fundraising, the intent and goals of the society, and the mission statement.
This past year, our supporters donated to our cause in good faith. I asked for donations to a Society, that wasn’t even a society…yet! And they did. The American Cancer Society started somewhere. This is our starting place.

Some of our examples of fundraising include a lemonade stand, an apple cider stand, thirty-one fundraiser, Jamberry fundraiser, Arbonne fundraiser. Other donations came from a fundraiser from Olivia’s elementary school, my co-workers that took up a collection for Christmas, other anonymous donations, and those that donated through the go fund me page. Don’t discount small fundraisers because they add up. If we all participate in fundraising, this society can grow even stronger and even bigger, helping more children with CVI.


 

Did she smile?  Yes!  And she hasn’t stopped!

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Moms on Monday #11 / Cheyanne from NV

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!

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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.

Much Gratitude
-Cheyanne Sparks

Sharing a blessing… Help spread his soulful message
ARCHER’S JOURNEY

http://www.sparkingtheneurons.blogspot.com

Thank you Cheyanne for your courageous storytelling! 

 

Moms on Monday #9 / Meredith from IN

Good morning fellow moms and dads of delightful children who happen to have CVI,

Today’s MOM is Lola’s mom, Meredith from Indianapolis, Indiana.

Meredith has become a super advocate for her daughter and for young children with visual impairments in Indiana and Kentucky.  She is one of the driving forces behind Visually Impaired Preschool Services Indiana (VIPS Indiana), a non-profit agency that provides ongoing, best practice early intervention for infants and toddlers with severe vision loss.  She is also one fierce rooftop hockey player.

I got to meet Meredith and Lola through VIPS Indiana when Lola was a baby.  It is hard to believe that she will be 7 in January.

What does Lola like to do? What makes her laugh? What are her favorite activities, foods, etc?
Lola loves to do most anything that involves being outside. She loves parks, playgrounds, swimming pools and she especially likes to help walk the dogs around the neighborhood.

Lola adores her brother although sometimes she doesn’t understand what it means to give him space so she easily annoys him. Their relationship is much like any other sibling connection; they love each other one minute and are fighting the next. Lola especially likes clothes and shoes. We never really knew if Lola could identify colors since she can’t articulate it, but it has become very clear that yes she can absolutely differentiate colors as she hates pink and purple! She wants to wear blues and greens much like her brother. I’m so proud that she can now take off and put on her own clothes—I just wish she’d stop doing it 18 times a day!

Lola’s father makes her laugh like no one else. Now that she is paying attention more to her surroundings, she’ll start laughing when she sees or hears us laughing and the next thing we know—we are all laughing hysterically and we don’t really know why! It’s very sweet!

Lola loves almost all food but her favorites are cookies, pizza, chips, grapes, spaghetti and cereal bars. She doesn’t care for raspberries or watermelon. I wish her weight reflected her love of food—we’ll keep trying to get some meat on her bones though!

What do you like to do as a family?
As a family, we like to find playgrounds that are visually accessible for Lola. It’s sort of become a weekend hobby which is fun because we have learned where to take her and where to stay away from. She really needs high contrast in order to keep from getting bumps and bruises. We try to not keep her in a bubble since the world itself is not Lola-safe, but when she is on a playground that is all brown—for instance—she really struggles.

We also like to go to places like Monkey Joe’s or sensory-friendly gyms. Lola’s ability to sit and partake in an activity with us has increased dramatically over the last year so we’ll play her favorite game which is Hungry Hippo and she likes to color as well as play with Play-Doh. She also loves going to her grandparent’s house so many weekends are spent with them as well.

When did you first learn about CVI?
You know, I had a feeling something was wrong with Lola’s vision from the very second I laid eyes on her after she was born. I was always told that we would immediately lock eyes which indicated, “I am yours and you are mine” but Lola never looked at me. I gave birth to Lola in Costa Rica as my husband and I were living there at the time.  My nurses didn’t speak any English so I wasn’t entirely sure what to ask.

Lola’s Apgar  scores were perfect and the OB-GYN assured us that Lola was a healthy baby girl. We took her home and waited for the eye contact to kick in, but it never did. She sort of looked over our heads as if she was looking at a ghost standing behind us. She also wasn’t reaching for toys and she wasn’t tracking. My mother’s instinct kept telling me something was wrong and I was right.

Lola started to have infantile spasms when she was four months old and treatment to get the seizures under control began immediately. I started researching other symptoms associated with infantile spasms and I came across cortical visual impairment (CVI). When I read the characteristics, I knew right away that Lola had CVI.

How were you given the diagnosis?
As I mentioned Lola was diagnosed with infantile spasms by a neurologist in Costa Rica who was incredibly knowledgeable and supportive. When Lola was about seven months old, Dr. Luna gave Lola the CVI diagnosis yet we were less than shocked as we already suspected she had CVI.

Does your child have other diagnoses you’d like to mention?
Lola has an extremely rare genetic condition called Bosch Boonstra Schaaf optic atrophy syndrome. There are only about 40 in the world with the condition although as genetic testing becomes more available, researchers believe several hundred will be identified. So I thought Lola just had these two conditions, infantile spasms and CVI, I did not realize they were actually “symptoms or characteristics” of something bigger. As it turns out—they are. Lola’s seizures are under control, but she still has CVI, hypotonia, global developmental delay, nystagmus, autism, and more. She sounds complex and I suppose she is, but to us—she’s just Lola.

How was your child’s Early Intervention experience with regard to CVI? 
Are you ready for a shocker? After Lola completed her steroids for the infantile spasms, she was immediately referred to a therapy clinic. When we first walked up to the house (which looked like any other Costa Rican house), I immediately wondered 1) if we were in the right place and 2) how on earth would anyone in this place be able to help my baby? I was grossly mistaken as we met Lola’s very first physical therapist, Moises.

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At Lola’s very first appointment, Moises stood at a whiteboard and explained exactly what CVI was to us—graphics and all! It was so comforting to have this information even as upsetting as it was. I learned right then and there something that has stuck with me at every turning point in this journey and that is; knowledge equals empowerment. When you give me information, I feel confident that I can do something with it. And so Lola began to see Moises once a week for PT, but working on her brain “learning to see” was always an integral part of her therapy sessions. She also began to see the occupational therapist, Melissa, who again, challenged Lola’s visual pathway during every single session. We couldn’t have asked for better providers during those early months and we are forever grateful.

Were your providers knowledgeable? Were they open to learning?
Moises and Melissa were more than knowledgeable when it came to CVI. They didn’t have to learn a single thing because they truly understood how CVI was impacting Lola’s development. It was rather impressive especially for being in a foreign country.

So as wonderful as the healthcare system was for Lola in Costa Rica, we knew that long-term it would be better for her to live in the U.S. We moved back to Indianapolis when Lola was just under a year-old. We immediately enrolled her in First Steps, Indiana’s early intervention system.

In First Steps, we had access to a PT, an OT and a speech therapist, but when I inquired about who would be helping us with Lola’s vision loss, I was told there wasn’t really anyone. I called around and found that information to be true and, ultimately, very shocking. How could we have better therapists for Lola’s vision in Costa Rica than the United States? It made no sense to me. But I wasn’t going to give up as I knew how important the first three years of Lola’s brain development was so I persisted until I found someone to help. I met Annie Hughes who was a Teacher of Blind/Low Vision and she worked for Visually Impaired Preschool Services (VIPS), a nonprofit that provides early intervention to young children with vision loss. Vision-specific home visits began and I finally felt as if we found exactly who we were looking for as Ms. Annie was more than knowledgeable!

How do you feel CVI is addressed in your child’s school setting?
Lola attends an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) center called Access Behavior Analysis in Indianapolis. While the therapists at Access had not worked with a child who had CVI prior to Lola, they were more than open to learning about it and how to set Lola’s environment up so she could thrive. After some lacking in the public school system, Lola will now have access to a Teacher of Blind/Low Vision who will consult with the center so that everyone understands Lola’s vision loss and how to make the proper modifications for her vision.

What do you know now that you wish you had known at the beginning of your journey as Lola’s mom?
This is a good question. I guess I wish I had let go more. That probably sounds ironic given that as a special needs parent, we may never truly let go, but I wish I didn’t worry myself sick so much. It was all so unknown and unexpected, but Lola was my baby so how could I not worry?

I just wish I would have spent less time immersing myself in the internet and more time enjoying Lola for exactly who she was. I wanted answers though. I wanted to know what her future looked liked. I always wanted someone to look in their crystal ball and tell me that Lola was going to be OK and, of course, nobody ever could. Sure I still worry, but I’m not debilitated by it. I acknowledge that some days will be tough, but they are few and far in between now and I’m very grateful for that.

I also acknowledge that CVI is not the only reason why Lola is delayed. Sure it is part of it, but I have now recognized that Lola is delayed because of her genetic condition. When she wasn’t walking at the age of three, I’d say, “She’s not walking because she’s visually impaired.” Now, I know that children who are completely blind can still walk even at an early age. I just wasn’t really willing to accept that she will always be delayed in some way, but that doesn’t mean she stops progressing. We celebrate the big, gigantic milestones as well as the tiny, most wouldn’t even notice inchstones! They all matter to us!
What would you tell a mother whose child has just been identified as having CVI?
You are not alone is the very first thing I would say. I think I would say please try your absolute hardest to not compare your child with others who have CVI (or even neuro-typical kids as well) as it’s just not healthy for you. I would also say that it does get easier over time. I remember when the ophthalmologist said Lola was legally blind and I about lost it, but what I realized is that Lola was still Lola. Those few extra words didn’t change a thing in that very moment. And honestly, having diagnoses will give your child access to MORE therapies and services. But I used to worry about CVI every day when she was little and now it’s not the first thing on my mind when I wake up. In fact, it’s the one of the last things I think about because CVI is just a part of our lives now.

What would you like for people who have never heard of CVI to know?
I would probably give them my normal CVI spiel about what CVI is, that many times CVI can improve over time (Lola can now see something as small as a raisin on the floor), that even though Lola’s vision has improved she still struggles greatly with her vision, and I’d like them to know that I have no idea how Lola sees the world. I’m willing to give just about anything to have a glimpse of how Lola interprets her surroundings, but I realize that may never happen.

Anything else? Hopes and dreams?
I think we are inundated with what society believes “success” of a child is. It means straight A’s, Honor Roll, graduating from high school, going on to college, finding a love to marry, having children, finding a career, and lots of other stuff in between. I’ll admit that I drank the Kool-Aid, too. When I was pregnant with Lola, my dreams for her were different than what has become her reality, but it’s OK.

View More: http://broadphotography.pass.us/howellfamily2016

Success for Lola means she’s happy, healthy, she loves, and she is loved. That’s all I want for her. Well, I kind of want her to move out someday, too, so I can catch up on nearly seven years of interrupted by Lola sleep!! But in all honesty, I just want Lola to be in a safe environment where people who know and love her look after her. I’m often asked if Lola will live with us forever and my immediate response is “HELL NO!” Now that’s not because I wouldn’t want Lola to live with us until the day I die, but how unfair would that be for her? She’s only six and she already wants to be out of the house so imagine when she’s 22. While she has her challenges, she knows she wants independence and we are going to honor that. She will always need help, but I will die more peacefully knowing that I have her support system in place so that she can live life without me. That’s so hard to write and perhaps I’m sharing too much, but my job as her mother is to think about her future. And Lola’s future will include lots of caring people because it does indeed take a village the size of China when you have a child with special needs.

 

Thank you Meredith and Lola!  

Moms on Monday #8 / Rebecca from VA

Good morning fellow CVI families,

Time is a precious commodity in the lives of parents of children with special needs.

The never-ending loop of Christmas songs in every public place and the constant parade of UPS trucks in your neighborhood means holidays are just around the corner.

During the holidays, the disruption of our routines and schedules makes life more stressful and time even more precious.

Dr. Roman-Lantzy says, “CVI moms are the busiest people I know.”  Now is not the best time to be writing up your story for a blog for other parents. You are in the throes of making holiday magic happen for your family.  That is what we do.

Since I have posted all of the Moms on Monday stories sent to me thus far, I will be today’s MOM.  And, because, I am today’s MOM, this post is late because that is how I roll (or write, or whatever, you know what I mean).

Maybe, after the holiday festivities are over, in the calm of the new year, you will consider sharing some of your stories with us.

Introduction:  I am Rebecca, Eliza’s mom.  She is 11 years old.  We live in Virginia.

(Fun fact:  Over the past 11 years, we have lived in 4 states.  Eliza was born in California.  She received early intervention in California and Indiana.  She has attended schools in Indiana, Kentucky, Florida, and Virginia.  Out of necessity, I have learned a lot about the differences between states in early intervention, early education and public school services. And, BOY, are there differences.) 

Here she is at about 11 months old.

Baby_E[1]

 

About your child: What does she like to do? What makes her laugh? What are her favorite activities? What do you like to do as a family?

Eliza is a social, curious and loving kid. She loves to be near other people, especially other children. Listening to other children playing makes her very happy. Her older sister is her favorite person on the planet. Eliza’s dad can make a noise that makes Eliza giggle like crazy every time. Her favorite activities include going for a walk, swinging, listening to music,  swimming, and jumping on a trampoline.  As a family, we go to the park and take long walks outside when weather permits.  We also take her to the pool as often as we can.

She LOVES music.  We spend a ridiculous amount of time changing the songs on her IPad or her CD player.  If I never hear Waterloo by ABBA again, it would be too dang soon.  I have Ziggy Marley’s Family Time album playing in my head right now. Also, I think we paid for Laurie Berkner’s car by incessantly playing her YouTube videos.  You’re welcome, Laurie Berkner.  My older daughter and I can sing a Laurie Berkner medley at any given moment.  Not everyone can say THAT, now can they?  Silver linings and such.

When did you first learn about CVI?  How were you given the diagnosis?

We knew before Eliza was born that she would have some challenges ahead.  We just didn’t know exactly what those challenges would be.  We were given the grimmest prognosis during the third trimester of my pregnancy before we even got to meet her.  That’s another story entirely.

At 4 months old, Eliza wasn’t tracking anything.  We took her to a pediatric ophthalmologist who called it  Delayed Visual Maturation and told us her vision would eventually develop normally.

“Don’t buy trouble,”  he told me. (Hmmm, well,  Dr. Expert Guy Mansplainer, maybe I’ll just rent trouble and take it for a test drive.

CAN I JUST SAY HOW ANNOYING and CONDESCENDING THAT PHRASE – Don’t buy trouble – IS? 

How many times are mothers of children with special needs or medical issues dismissed by a doctor who “knows better?” )

Which leads me to the truest thing I have ever seen on the Internet.

that which does not kill me

A neuro-ophthalmologist assessed Eliza’s poor vision at 9 months old.  He diagnosed Cortical Visual Impairment and Optic Nerve Atrophy.

We received a diagnosis, but, we also got the expert opinion from the neuro-ophthalmologist.

His expert opinion:  CVI may improve.  It may not.  There is nothing you can do about it.  Wait and see. Take her home, treat her like a blind child, and come back to see me in a year.  

And, what do we know now – 10 years later?

He was so very wrong.

I did not know how wrong he was, but, I could not accept that I would just go home and do nothing.  Just wait and see?  Moms do not work that way.  My heart could not accept his “expert” opinion.

I began researching CVI.  I bought Dr. Roman-Lantzy’s book.  I emailed her.  We met her in a hotel room in California where she was attending a conference with her husband, George Clooney.  (He loves it when I say that.)

Slowly but surely, we learned as much as we could about CVI and made accommodations to Eliza’s home environment.

AND, a year later, after we had worked on developing Eliza’s vision at home, when we followed up with the same neuro-ophthalmologist, he had this to say:

“I do not understand how her vision has improved so much.  I would not have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself.  I don’t know what you are doing at home, but keep doing it.”  

This was when I handed him the copy of Dr. Roman-Lantzy’s book I bought for him.

I told him I knew he couldn’t “fix” CVI.  The prescription for CVI is educational modifications and strategies specific to each child’s unique learning needs.  It is education for parents, caregivers, and teachers about how the child has access to the world.

I told him I did not expect him to know how to address CVI, but I did expect him to stop telling parents to “Wait and see. There’s nothing you can do.”  I expected him to tell parents about educating themselves about CVI and to expect improvement.

He is still speaking to me, so I think it turned out okay.

Does you child have other diagnoses?  Yes, microcephaly and pachygyria of currently undiscovered cause, CP, epilepsy, global developmental delay, autism (age 4)

How is/was your early intervention experience?  How much time do you have?

000_0002 [325201]

A decade ago, there was very little consistent information about CVI on the internet.  Dr. Roman-Lantzy’s book was still new.  None of the early interventionists in vision loss in California had heard of CVI.

When we moved to Indiana when Eliza was 2 and still eligible for another year of early intervention, I discovered that Indiana did not have ongoing early intervention for infants and toddlers with vision loss.  Just didn’t have it.

Indiana offered families of young children with vision loss a yearly – roughly 2 hour- consultation from one teacher.  A fantastic teacher (Miss Annie from the Blue Bowl Story), but ONE teacher, nonetheless, for an entire state.  She had a caseload of over 300 families.

HOW IS THAT OK?  (It’s not,  but that is another story entirely.  That one has a happy ending, though, for another time.) 

Did I mention – that which does not kill me

I did the best I could to inform the early interventionists and therapists we’ve had over the years about Cortical Visual Impairment and the importance of ACCESS for children with vision loss.

ACCESS is what it is all about – whether the child has low vision from another diagnosis or CVI.

No therapeutic or educational program is going to work for your child if your child cannot access it. Yes, I’ll keep saying ACCESS until I’m blue in the face or every child has actual ACCESS to learning whichever comes first.  (A bluish tinge is more likely I think.)

Imagine you are sitting in a room and the answers to all of life’s most important questions are written on the walls around you – glowing in golden paint.  But, when you open your eyes, you see squiggles, shapes, and lines.  It could be hieroglyphics for all you know.  It has no effect on you whatsoever.

It does not matter how much brilliant, life-enhancing, brain stimulating information is around you, if you can’t reach it.

This seems like common sense.  It is.  But, it is astounding at how many typically sighted folks struggle to learn this lesson.

How is CVI being addressed in your child’s school setting?  

I have been the person who has brought up CVI and the issue of access at every IEP meeting we’ve had in every state we’ve lived in.  In her current placement, it has taken me the better part of 3 years to get CVI acknowledged, and to get the school district to agree to getting training for teachers, TVI, and support staff.  It is an ongoing process.  There are ups and downs. I’m learning a lot.  That is all I’ve got right now.

What do you know now that you wish you had known at the beginning of your journey as your child’s mom?   

Honestly, I wish that I had spent less time seeking out therapy after therapy.  I wish I had had regular access to an experienced TVI early on in Eliza’s life who could have told me to slow down.  I wish I could go back and tell myself that no one has all of the answers here and to trust myself more.

I wish I had known that the love and bonding time we had were as important as any hour spent in a clinic.  I wish we spent fewer hours in a clinic and more hours laying on a blanket watching the clouds float by.  Okay, technically, I’d be watching the clouds, but we’d be doing something together.

I also wish I knew as much about CVI as parents today know about it. There has been a lot of new, incredibly useful information to come out of Dr. Roman-Lantzy’s years of study and research, the work of Dr. Gordon Dutton, and Matt Tietjen’s What’s the Complexity framework.

I wish I had asked for more help.  I wish more help had been offered.

What would you tell a mother whose child has just been identified as having CVI?

You are not alone.  There are resources available.  There is a community of parents who have faced similar challenges.

Be gentle with yourself.  Be gentle with your child.  The foundation of any child’s success is the love and trust that grows between a child and her parent or caregiver.  It starts and ends there.

What would you like for people who have never heard of CVI to know?  

This is a population of complicated children, many of whom have survived because of the miracle of modern medicine.  It is time to recognize them and to rise to the challenge of meeting their needs.  There are more children with CVI than you know.  We need your help.

Hopes and dreams? 

My hope for Eliza is to help her get so independent that she develops her own hopes and dreams and that she has a way to tell me what they are.

One of my dreams is that every child with vision loss (whether or not the diagnosis is CVI) gets the educational support she needs from an early age to become independent, productive, and joyful.  Here is my definition of JOY  by the way. eliza in the car

 

P.S.  It would also be great if  no pediatric ophthalmologist or neuro-ophthalmologist ever again tells a parent of child with CVI that there is nothing she can do.

Maybe we will work on that in 2018.  Hmm?

 

 

Moms on Monday #7 / Gunjan from PA

Good morning fellow families of glorious children who happen to have CVI,

This morning, we have the pleasure of hearing from Krish’s mom, Gunjan.  Gunjan has been a force in advancing the work of the  Pediatric Cortical Visual Impairment Society and in advocating to raise awareness about CVI . At last year’s PCVI conference, she and MaryAnne Roberto, Perkins-Roman CVI Endorsed TVI, gave a presentation entitled Partners on the Journey:  A TVI and Family’s CVI Experience from Birth to Age 3.   You can find this presentation as a webinar on the Perkins E-Learning site : http://www.perkinselearning.org/videos/webinar/partners-journey-cvi-experience-birth-age-3

Gunjan’s family recently hosted a painting fundraiser for the PCVI Society and raised $1,500.  Here are Gunjan and MaryAnne at the fundraiser.

gunjan and maryanne

Gunjan’s determination is proof that If every parent could make an effort to raise awareness about CVI, to fundraise for the PCVI Society, as well as to challenge their teams to hone their CVI skills, the world might be a better place for our kids.”

Introduction: Gunjan, Krish, 5, Pennsylvania

About your child:  Krishy loves to dance, specifically, what I would term as interpretive dance, because he moves with music so well.  He loves to watch Super Mario YouTube videos, in other words, watching other people play video games on YouTube. He “practices” playing the games on his IPad by moving his finger, as if he is controlling the game, not the player on YouTube. He loves amusement park rides and most of all, he LOVES playing with his older sister and twin brother.  As a family, we do typical family things, like no-pants dance party and going to the playground.

We rarely go to the movies. (We saw Coco yesterday.  Krish doesn’t have the core strength to hold the foldable seat down, so he kept getting smooshed in the seat, besides the vision issues, of course, and the cost of taking a family of 5 to the movies!)  We definitely avoid large crowds, super-noisy places and anything too physically strenuous (for me or Krish, ha ha) to avoid sensory overload. 

When did you first learn about CVI? I learned about CVI the first day that our soon-to-be early intervention vision teacher came to our home for a consult when Krish was around 7 months old.  I had told our physical therapist that Krish wasn’t looking at me. 

How were you given the diagnosis?  We had an amazing teacher of the visually impaired, the famous MaryAnne Roberto, who suspected the diagnosis, and guided us to Neuro-ophthalmology, the Low Vision Clinic, Ophthalmology, and Dr. Roman-Lantzy. 

Our Ophthalmologist gave us the diagnosis, even though she didn’t completely understand CVI.  She did recognize that she didn’t understand.  

Does your child have other diagnoses you’d like to mention?  Krish is a former 26 week preemie twin with failure to thrive, mild hypotonic cerebral palsy, chronic lung disease and GERD.

How is/was your child’s early intervention experience with regard to CVI?  (Were your providers knowledgeable?  Were they open to learning?)  We had an AMAZING early intervention experience.  Most of our team members were open to MaryAnne’s suggestions of how to improve his PT, OT, feeding, etc. sessions with CVI interventions. (I fired the one who didn’t get it!)  MaryAnne had consultation time to work interdisciplinary.  We were able to get services for vision without a diagnosis of CVI. 

How is CVI being addressed in your child’s school setting?  Krish is in his 2nd year of Pre-Kindergarten.  I wanted him to get extra time to start learning sight words and other kindergarten skills.  He is in a typical classroom.  Both his current TVI and classroom teacher have demonstrated time and again their commitment to making him successful.  We are starting to use the iPad as his primary learning tool in school to adapt books, etc.  He has an occupational therapist who is also an assistive technology consultant (winner, winner, chicken dinner!!) She is helping to prepare him on how to use the iPad independently for learning and to use the best apps. 

We recently had a meeting with Dr. Roman-Lantzy and have decided to overhaul Krish’s IEP to include a 1-to-1 aide, so that ALL his materials can be adapted. 

What I learned was, just because he can do it, doesn’t mean he should.   He can look at a book, he can color, he can look up at a calendar on a complex wall, but doing all the things fatigues his vision and he becomes slower and slower at visual processing.  He is quick to fatigue both visually and physically.  If we create a CVI schedule and adapt all his materials, he will not fatigue as quickly and can absorb more information. 

What do you know now that you wish you had known at the beginning of your journey as Krish’s mom? 

In the beginning of this whole process, I wish I could have seen who he has become today. 

I prayed and wished he would walk and talk and see, but it was hard to have hope. 

I was tired ALL THE TIME. 

Also, the CVI resources that exist on the Internet now are amazing.  Even just 5 years ago, I couldn’t find the quality information available now. 

I would tell a mom whose child was recently diagnosed that whenever you are down-trodden and feel like you can’t verbally describe another illustration from a book or talk about the salient features of a hippo, remember that the vision of children with CVI, especially those who start with appropriate interventions at a young age, does IMPROVE! 

Additionally, if your child’s team doesn’t understand CVI, if the IEP doesn’t have CVI strategies that are specific to where your child’s vision is on the CVI Range, if the people who are teaching your child are resistant to learning about CVI,  GET A NEW TEAM!  Do whatever it takes to fight for your child’s right to learn to see. 

What would you like for people who have never heard of CVI to know?  If you have never heard of CVI, I would tell you it is more common than anyone could imagine.  Every child with CVI looks different.  It is a diagnosis that crosses medical diagnoses. 

Hopes and dreams?  Anything else you’d like to add?  Attending the PCVI Society Conference changed my life.  It was inspiring to meet families, educators, and medical providers who are motivated to improve the lives of a child like Krish.  It made me feel like I could do something to advance the cause of CVI.  Also, having Dr. Roman-Lantzy and MaryAnne Roberto as part of our team is like having unicorn glitter in my pocket, just invaluable.  Lastly, if every parent could make an effort to raise awareness about CVI and fundraise for the PCVI Society, as well as challenge their teams to hone their CVI skills, the world might be a better place for our kids.  

Thank you Gunjan and Krish!  May we all find unicorn glitter in our pocket!

 

 

Seeking More Moms for More Mondays

Hello Fellow Mothers of Beautiful Children Who Happen to Have CVI,

We need more Moms on Mondays.

Okay, I do.  I need more Moms on Mondays.

I have thoroughly enjoyed hearing from all of the mothers who have contributed so far.  I learn something new every time a mother shares her story.

Thank you to Jessica, Mary, Subarna, Tiffany, and Lauren.  And, as always, thank you to Bernadette Jackel whose CVI mom experience can be found under The More Things Change widget on the CVI Momifesto home page.

I imagined Moms on Monday as a site a sleep deprived mom might find at 2 a.m. when she has finally gotten her child back to bed only to find that she is too tired and worried to get back to sleep herself.

Just over 10 years ago, when E was a baby, I felt more alone than I have ever felt in my life. The gradual realization of just how many challenges she would have to overcome pushed me farther and farther from “typical” conversations. I became less capable of small talk with friends or “cute kid” anecdotes shared over coffee with other moms.

(FYI New CVI Moms:  A lack of cute anecdotes, mind-numbing sleep deprivation, and an IV drip of caffeine for survival makes you less than desirable company at the weekly playgroup.  Also, your new deep purple undereye circles and recent lack of personal hygiene don’t scream “I’m available for small talk!”

Then again, maybe you are remembering to wear deodorant and to rinse conditioner out of your hair more often than I did.  If so, winning! )

If you haven’t lived it, it’s hard to explain the impossible combination of utter physical exhaustion and adrenalin fueled hypervigilance that thrives in mothers of children with special needs.

I personally found that early morning hours were the worst for this cruel phenomenon.  My whole body ached from being awake for too many hours, however, when I closed my eyes, my mind reviewed notes from the day’s therapy sessions or dissected an earlier conversation with the expert of the day.  Sometimes I’d remember that I had an older daughter and was supposed to bring snacks to preschool in 4 hours.  Good times.

Basically, my off switch was broken.

So, I’d get up and start looking up my questions online, or rummaging through my pantry for preschool snacks. (Water chestnuts and saltines, anyone? Anyone?) Those 2 a.m. research times can be very dark and lonely.

Finding stories from other mothers in the middle of the night when you feel as though you are the only person carrying the weight of your child’s world on your shoulders may be a source of comfort.

It’s equal opportunity comfort as well because it also works for middle of the day, afternoon, and evening worrying.

AND, I think we all know that if there was a marathon for hypervigilance and worry, a special needs mom would win it hands down.

We.  Never.  Close.

We never close, but our befuddled brains play mean jokes on us.  For me, after another  night of consoling, bouncing, and worrying, I’d drag myself into a closet.  Then, I’d realize the closet was not the shower.  So, for a moment, I would forget just why I was standing in the closet.  Then, I’d shuffle off to the shower.

I would stand, head bowed to focus the hot water on my aching neck. Staring absently at the tiles on the shower floor, the Barry Manilow song “I made it through the rain” began playing in my head.  Every. Single. Morning.

And, no offense, to 70’s soft rock, or Mr. Manilow, but I am NOT a fan.

It seemed less an anthem, and more of a mean spirited joke produced by my declining mind.

Sometimes I’d find myself wondering which was worse, the new routine of 4 hours of nonconsecutive sleep, or the promise of being serenaded by Barry Manilow in the morning.  (Again, it’s not YOU, Mr. Manilow.  It’s me.)

This is your brain on hypervigilance.

But, I digress.

Please consider joining us in creating a place where moms can find a story they may relate to, or, at least,  friendly company in the chaos.

A place where moms can find themselves “respected by the others whooooooo got rained on toooooo and made it throooooooough.”

Forgive me.  I’m not proud of that.  But, it was right there.  (See how annoying it is?)

I came up with some questions you can answer (see below), or do your own thing.  There is no right way to share your story.

Send it to info@cvimomifesto.com.

I will notify you before your story is posted to confirm your permission to share.

Moms on Mondays

Introduction: Your first name, your child’s first name and age, the state you live in
(If you would prefer to use an initial instead of your name, fine! If you’d like to share a picture, great!)
About your child: What does she like to do? What makes him laugh? What are her favorite activities? What do you like to do as family?

When did you first learn about CVI?

How were you given the diagnosis?

Does your child have other diagnoses you’d like to mention? 

How is/was your child’s Early Intervention experience with regard to CVI? (Were your providers knowledgeable? Were they open to learning?)

How is CVI being addressed in your child’s school setting? (If applicable)

What do you know now that you wish you had known at the beginning of your journey as your child’s mom?
What would you tell a mother whose child has just been identified as having CVI?

What would you like for people who have never heard of CVI to know?

Hopes and dreams? Anything else you’d like to add?

 

Thank you for your consideration.  Thank you for your company.

sorrows borne

Moms on Monday # 5 / Lauren from PA

Good Morning Fellow CVI Families and the TVI who love us (okay – put up with us),

This week’s Mom on Monday is Lauren, mother to 20-month-old Emma.

Lauren started a blog about her experience at Emma’s mother, Emma Bear’s Journey. Their unfolding story can be found at https://emmabear.org.

From the blog:

About me and Emma

I am a full time stay at home mom of an absolutely beautiful and amazing 13 month old girl named Emma.  She was born with hydrocephalus and later developed craniosynostosis during her first few months of life.  She’s been through more in her brief time here than most people will experience in a lifetime.  I admire her strength, resilience and fighting spirit.  This is her journey as well as mine.

Like a lot of children with CVI, Emma faces significant medical issues.  Their successes and challenges are very familiar to my experience as E’s mom.  She openly discusses many of the issues mothers of children with complicated medical diagnoses face – seizures, medical procedures, sleep deprivation, and the roller coaster of emotions that go along with all of this.

She has posted about a lot of CVI DIY projects that have helped Emma begin to use her vision.  The lighted tray and her method of simplifying board books are a couple of helpful strategies.

Lauren also moderates the closed Facebook group, Parents of Kids with Developmental Delays.  It is a great resource for parents to share and to ask questions.

Thank you Lauren and Emma!

Moms on Monday #2 / Mary from Ohio

This week we have the privilege of hearing from a tenacious mother and advocate from Cleveland, Ohio.  There are so many parts of this story that are familiar to me and are important for other moms to hear. She has a lot to teach us.

Take it away, Mary!

Dear CVI Family,

My name is Mary and I am a mother of an eighteen year old daughter.  That’s right, eighteen YEARS I’ve been at this.  I am tired and I am worn, but I haven’t given up.  

You see when my daughter was born we knew she had a very rare chromosome disorder that we couldn’t do anything to change.  We knew she had a very serious heart muscle issue that we couldn’t do anything to change.  She had feeding issues and couldn’t nurse. She threw up and was later labeled a failure to thrive.  She had this vision issue that we weren’t sure about.  She couldn’t hold her head up.  She couldn’t latch on or drink from a normal nipple.  Her delivery was an emergency C-section.  She was born not breathing. The cardiologist sent her home from the doctor saying they didn’t know what her prognosis was because her heart function was so poor.  

So, can you see that our focus was on her surviving?   And, way down the list was her vision.  

Eighteen years ago, CVI was such a new diagnosis that her vision issues flew under the radar of importance.  And, you don’t know what you don’t know.  

Finally, at 9 months we were told to go see an ophthalmologist who explained that my daughter had a visual processing issue that was brain based and that time might help.

(Does that sound familiar? And, I can’t believe parents are still hearing the same thing today. )

So, in the blur of everything else we were dealing with we accepted the “expert’s” opinion and continued on with helping our daughter to make developmental gains.  By this time, her heart muscle function had greatly improved and we were moving out of “survival” mode into helping her become all that she could become.

For years my daughter did so much therapy.  And, the puzzling question for so many of us was that she didn’t seem to have any intrinsic motivation to do or learn.  Why was that? Therapist after therapist were puzzled by it.  

By this time, we had seen another ophthalmologist who told us the same thing about her vision. “It’s a visual processing disorder.  Her eyes are physically just fine.  There’s nothing that can be done. Don’t waste your money on vision therapy.” Again, I took the “expert’s” word for it.

She learned to walk by age 4.  By this time, it was clear that she would have developmental challenges her whole life. Trying to help her was frustrating and puzzling.

But, like all of you, I have that “mom gut.” I knew what worked for her.  Plus, I took an awesome autism course that helped me understand that there is almost always a reason for every behavior.  I learned through this course that lots of children with sensory issues have trouble picking out what should be salient.  Yep, that’s the word that was used.  

So, still not knowing about the CVI, I began narrating to her to help her focus on specific things that might be salient.  She struggled in complex environments.  She didn’t make eye contact.  She looked above our heads.  She didn’t look right at things.  She looked and then looked away before reaching for things.  She avoided toys that had too much going on. (As I type this, it is painful because if I had only known back then what I know now, I could have helped her so much more.)  

But, you don’t know what you don’t know.  

I knew that when I talked her through things she was calmer.  She loved Elmo.  So, I would use Elmo as a way to get her to motor plan getting to things. (I put Elmo everywhere.)  There were so many things that I did because I knew they worked for her but I didn’t understand why they worked.

My daughter was in and out of public school.  She started in an inclusive preschool when she was 5.  It was overwhelming for her.  She would often “freeze”.  She didn’t engage. The words, “learned passivity” were used.  So, I blamed myself for causing her to freeze and not initiate.

The public school approach with my daughter was not right for her but it was all they knew to do.  There wasn’t even a vision specialist on her IEP team.  I didn’t know to ask for it.   My daughter was not making progress in the public schools.  Often she would make great progress at home over the summer and then go to school and the progress would stop.

Here are the things I began advocating for:

1)  Wait Time    

2)  Narrating for her to help explain situations  

3)  Quiet lunch with a few willing peers

 4)  A consistent one on one aide for her whole day  

5)  A study carrel for her to work.  

Don’t those things sound familiar?  But you don’t know what you don’t know.   I finally requested a TVI evaluate her as a part of her Evaluation Team Report.

I had heard about CVI by then.  I had Googled some of her unusual visual behaviors and CVI had popped up.  When I say popped up, it didn’t pop up like it does now.  There were a few, and I mean a few, sites and a few articles.

The TVI knew about CVI and even had a CVI evaluation kit.  He evaluated her and firmly explained that she did not have CVI.  There were too many things that she was able to do visually that were not consistent with CVI.  The expert had spoken and although I was doubtful, I didn’t question it.  After all, you don’t know what you don’t know.

After a few years of trying to make the school setting work for her,  I advocated for and got an outside placement for her at an autism center.  There was still no diagnosis of CVI but because the center was used to working with kids with sensory processing issues,  it was a better fit than the public school setting.  At this same time, I began taking her to a behavioral optometry place for vision therapy.  They recognized right away that she was using her peripheral vision and began working with her to use her central vision.  It was a vision therapy approach and it was a start.  She began to use her central vision in fleeting moments.  She also started to do very short tracking.

By this time, my daughter was about 14.  We had seen ophthalmologists, neurologists, a behavioral optometrist, and a TVI who had some knowledge of CVI and, still, no one had diagnosed her formally with CVI.   

I was beginning to up my research of CVI because there were too many things that my daughter did that were part of the characteristics.  After 14 years, I was tired of advocating for my daughter without any diagnosis or support.  So many times, I was told to let the “experts” know best.  I was tired.  And, I felt all alone.  

My daughter switched school placements at age 14.  Her school placement was at a mostly outpatient private therapy center.  They often brought in speakers to educate the therapists.  One of the speakers that visited was Dr. Roman.  One of my daughter’s school therapists was in attendance.  She called to tell me that she was sure my daughter had CVI.   

About 6 weeks later, at the age of 14, my daughter, myself and several of her therapists from her school placement went to Pittsburgh to see Dr. Roman.  My daughter was diagnosed on the CVI range as Phase II 5.25-6.  Thankfully, Dr. Roman said that it was remarkable how well my daughter had progressed even without the diagnosis.  

After all those years, the puzzle piece clicked.  I now knew what so many of you already know.  I knew why my daughter’s vision was so puzzling.  I knew that it was something that could be helped.  You see, I had always said that I knew that the chromosome disorder had caused an organic development issue that caused her body/brain to be formed differently.  But, I also kept saying that there was a part of her that seemed like it was being rehabbed.  There’s that “mom gut” again.  

So, at age 14, after years of advocating, fighting and so much frustration, there was finally a diagnosis. 

There was credibility for all the things that I had advocated for.  And, there was hope for the future because more than ever I knew how to help her.  I also had the hope that her visual processing would get better. 

Like you want for your children,  I  wanted her to become the best “her” she could become.  Plus, I wanted her to learn to enjoy her world, not be afraid and frustrated by it.   She seemed way smarter than she was able to show. 

We began the difficult process of teasing out which behaviors were because of cognitive challenges and which behaviors were because of her CVI issues or which were a combination of both.  You see, because everyone knew that she had cognitive issues, that is what would get blamed and so the supports given were for cognitive challenges.  

Now, I knew how to support her vision so she could continue to develop.   At the age of 15, after having a year of much more focused appropriate supports she had made great progress. She was still in  Phase II, but  had progressed to 6.25-7. Hurray for neuroplasticity! You see, you don’t know what you don’t know.  But, when you know, you can do better.  I was learning to do better!

At age 18, she is in Phase III 8-9.  She will always have cognitive limitations and global limitations.  I can’t do much to change those.  But, I can help her vision improve.  And, she is enjoying her world more.  I am still tired.  But, I’m not alone.  And, I’m grateful for this blog which brings us all together to share our stories and our experience.  

Thank you for your insight and your willingness to share what you’ve learned with us.   

 

 

 

Moms On Monday #1 / Jessica from NC

Good Morning Fellow CVI Families,

Part of starting a blog called CVI Momifesto was to build community between families facing similar challenges, but separated by distance and/or too busy to find each other.  We can learn from each other.   We can support each other.

I asked several CVI Moms I know if they would be interested in sharing their stories in a regular post we will call Moms On Monday.  If you are interested in sharing your story as well, please email Info@cvimomifesto.com, so we can begin the conversation!

Our first Mom on Monday is Jessica Marquardt from North Carolina.   Welcome, Jessica!  And, thank you. 

Summer was turning to fall in North Carolina, and our neighborhood was out in full force for the annual picnic – a time to catch up with neighbors we hadn’t seen for the season, or perhaps even a year. My daughter (we’ll call her G) is an enthusiastic kindergartner who is learning to write. She traveled from guest to guest asking if they needed a nametag and, if so, would they spell their name so she could be the one to write it?
On three separate occasions, neighbors approached my husband and me to tell us how much G had grown. Not in stature (well, that too), but specifically in maturity and independence. She was actively approaching people to engage in conversation and, as one neighbor put it, “seems happier in her own skin.”
Sounds like your typical, outgoing five-year-old. But there’s a catch. With cortical visual impairment (CVI), G doesn’t recognize faces. She walked up to my husband to ask him if he wanted a nametag. He mouthed, so as not to use his voice, to the neighbor next to him to ask G who she was talking to. She had no idea.
Yes, my daughter has CVI. She can’t interpret the illustrations in her favorite story book and can’t pick me or my husband out of a crowd until we open our mouths. But I’d say she’s fortunate. With a diagnosis of CVI, her vision can improve.
We have been told that of the 90 kids in our county’s school system with CVI, she’s the only one on a standard course of study.

She’s in her neighborhood school in a general education classroom and she receives services from a TVI, O&M specialist, OT and adapted PE. That she is so capable brings its own challenges. She wants to keep up; she wants to be with her peers. However, just like all kids with CVI, she needs specific interventions and supports to ensure that she can. And she needs a team that can stay a couple steps ahead of her to ensure it is prepared to meet her CVI needs.
How did we get here?

My daughter was diagnosed with CVI at eight months old. She has CVI due to a vascular event of unknown cause that occurred in utero or during early development. We have access to stellar medical care and early intervention services, yet no one told us that there was an opportunity to improve G’s functional vision. It took a trip to Omaha to the Conference on Pediatric Cortical Visual Impairment for us to begin to understand the opportunities and challenges. G was four by then – we’d lost four precious years of maximum neuroplasticity.
Armed with newfound knowledge, we traveled to Pittsburgh to see Dr. Christine Roman who conducted The CVI Range to assess G’s functional vision. We read textbooks and articles, watched webcasts and talked to other parents. We asked our school system about its roadmap for training teachers in CVI and related techniques. We asked specifically for a CVI Range Endorsed professional to be a part of G’s IEP team. There aren’t many out there, so our school system couldn’t promise to provide one. So we hired one privately. After meeting G, she began to work with us on a consultative basis, answering our many questions and making suggestions for how we could start to do the right things for G to make gains with her vision. We asked our private OT to join us in taking the Perkins e-Learning course on CVI with Dr. Roman. She agreed wholeheartedly, and our CVI Range Endorsed consultant is now her mentor on appropriate CVI interventions. They’ve made a wonderful team, even though the mentor lives many states away.

That’s the positive outlook. But it hasn’t all been rosy. We don’t live in an area that is ahead of the curve on CVI. We’ve had to educate ourselves and become a broken record for the cause. In less than a year, we’ve attended 30 hours of IEP meetings, plus hours preparing for them.

During one meeting, I felt compelled to text my sister. The exchange pretty much sums up my feelings on IEP meetings:
ME: Still in meeting and dying with stress. Please pray for me.
SISTER: Oh, I’m so sorry. Sending love and calm and prayers.
ME: I’m dying. I might be having a heart attack. Haha!
SISTER: ☹ I’m sorry!!
There have been sleepless nights (I’m a worrier). Tummy aches. Anger. Anger at doctors, the school system and myself for not knowing. For not jumping up and down and sending up a flare to say “Hey, her diagnosis is CVI. We can do something about that.” It’s a tough moment when you realize that no one will advocate for your child like you will, and if you don’t, your child won’t have all she needs to access the curriculum. Honestly, I could write a full post on IEPs, so we’ll save that for another time.
Here are my top three musts on your journey as a parent or guardian of a kid with CVI:
1. Get a CVI Range done by a CVI Range Endorsed professional. You need a score to know where to start intervening. This is non-negotiable.
2. Attend the Conference on Pediatric Cortical Visual Impairment. It changed my world to meet fellow parents and CVI knowledgeable providers (from both medical and education fields). I found “my people” there and learned a ton. You will too. You must get to Omaha.
3. Put together your advisory board. Some will be CVI experts, some will be your cheering section. My husband and I credit ours for molding us into CVI advocates over the past year and a half. We’d consider the following people to be members of our advisory board, and I highly suggest you start to think through who you can call for advice and support: Dr. Roman, our CVI Range Endorsed consultant, our private OT, our special education lawyer, various members of our family (you saw the dramatic texts my sister receives from me in the middle of the day) and other parents of kids with CVI who we’ve met along the way.
After a summer of intentional work on CVI-based interventions with our enthusiastic OT (who has taken some Perkins training and is being mentored by a CVI Range Endorsed professional), our daughter has improved by a quarter of a point on both Rating I and Rating II of The CVI Range. That’s on par with our expectations for a three-month period, and we believe in the hard work that it takes to get there (another topic that warrants a blog post). We expect more improvement as kindergarten continues and are heartened by what we see anecdotally.

G’s visual curiosity is growing and, as a result, so is her ability to access her world.

“CVI Moms are the busiest people I know”…and THIS IS WHY

I had quite the action plan this week and I learned stuff.

I learned that if you are up late typing a blog post,  you will fall asleep.  You will delete the nearly finished post when your head bobs, you jerk awake, and your hand slaps the keyboard. Then, groggy and irritated, I learned that when you spend five minutes clicking refresh in the hope that the words will reappear, they will not.

This was not part of my action plan.  Just thought you should know.

I haven’t given up on my action plan, but, the learning lesson with a blog post reminded me that CVI moms are often trying to cram more into a 24 hour day than will comfortably fit.  It’s like the day is a pair of Spanx and we have to fit the elephant in the room into those Spanx.

Every day.

It’s not pretty.  There is chafing.  But, it gets done.

Mostly.  There may be some unsightly bulges and an enraged pachyderm, but, hey, nothing’s perfect.

(I just used the word “Spanx” in a post about vision loss.   I’m thinking this is a first.) 

Dr. Christine Roman-Lantzy often says that CVI Moms are the busiest people she knows. She says this when the need for more CVI endorsed teachers, policy changes, and basic awareness about CVI is inevitably brought up in a presentation.

CVI Moms are often the mothers of children with multiple diagnoses.  We are juggling medical and educational needs while attempting to maintain families, jobs, and, (oh, who am I kidding?) – an identity of our own.   I am mostly failing at all of the above.  And, I have forgotten my middle name.

This week, I have not been particularly successful.  My patience is worn thin.  I speak in short, rushed sentences.  I am behind on making the adapted experience books I promised I would make for E’s classroom.  My dining room table is the insurance/invoice/bill station.  I owe return calls to therapists, the genetic counselor, the insurance case manager, to name a few. I may have walked/fed the dog.  Maybe.  My couch is covered in pictures, more pictures, Velcro, (So. Much. Velcro.), glue sticks, bare books (www.barebooks.com – You need these to make simpler book versions of other books, or of pictures of objects that are meaningful and motivating.) 

This week I was able to correspond with some other CVI moms about some advocacy and fundraising items in the works.  They are getting it done.  They are managing their jobs, their families, and their children’s IEPs.  They are doing the legwork teaching their schools about what children with CVI need.  They are training the educational staff. They are demanding more educational staff.  They are adapting materials.  All of these activities are full time jobs on top of their full time jobs.

And, still, when asked to do something that will help other families like ours, they say “yes.”

They understand that change will come only when we work together.

There will be chafing, however, it gets done.

In the past, relatives have asked me as they coolly examine my never-ending stacks of paper and pictures, my bed head and permanently furrowed eyebrow, “Why do you try so hard?”  At first, I stumbled over my words because I was so surprised by the question.  It seemed so obvious to me.  And, then, in their presence, I felt so alone.

I thought, “No one should ever have to feel this alone.”  I’ve thought that a lot over the past decade.

This is why a community is so important.  The CVI Moms I know are fierce, loving, dedicated, and resolute.  They are some of the best people I will ever know.  Their determination and courage gives me heart when I lose it from time to time. They remind me that I am not alone.  They remind me why we try so hard.

THIS IS WHY.

 

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This post and life got the better of me this week because I spend a lot of time advocating for my daughter’s quality of life.

And, then, I don’t feel so unsuccessful.