Moms on Monday #17 / Maggie from PA

Good morning!

Today’s Mom on Monday is Will’s mom, Maggie.   Will has a smile that will brighten your day.  Maggie has experience, wisdom to share and a “can-do” spirit that has taken them all over the country.  

Introduction:   Maggie, mom of Will, age 9. We live in Feasterville, Bucks County, a suburb of northeast Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

What does Will like to do?  What makes him laugh?  What are his favorite activities?  What do you do as a family? 

Will is a very happy, very social, very adorable redhead who has a smile that makes you smile when you see it. If you get him giggling you are certain to laugh, too. He has always loved music. I remember him lying on the hospital bed the day after he was born, all bundled and ready to make our journey home. Only his face was exposed. I put my face close to him and quietly sang “Somewhere over the Rainbow” to him. He quieted and just “stared” at me while I sang. From then, whenever he is fussing or restless, he will still quiet, or calm, when I sing to him.
We also loves water. He is very discerning though because the water must be warm. He wears his life jacket and we put ankle weights on, which allows him to bob in the water upright. He loves the freedom of kicking and moving in the water.

will in pool

Image:  Will in a life jacket with his dad in a pool

Another activity we do is traveling! This boy is very well-traveled. We estimate that he has visited 16 states and DC.  He has traveled coast to coast and north to south on around 2 dozen flights in his action-packed 9 years. We decided early on that we would not let his challenges keep him from experiencing his world. He is a great traveler both by car or plane.

willImage:  Will, a smiling red haired boy

We travel with Will’s stuffed friend, Cordy Roy, who gets a photo shoot at every location we travel to.

will bedford countyImage:  Will’s stuffed toy, Cordy Roy, next to a Bedford County sign

will in van

Image:  Smiling Will in a wheelchair in a van

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

We knew something was wrong when Will was about 1-month-old.  He wasn’t tracking us with his eyes and he wasn’t smiling in response to our facial expressions.  He had an unfocused stare.  Not long after, we began our journey of discovery.  After several tests, we found ourselves at the neuro-ophthalmologist at CHOP who gave us the official diagnosis of CVI.  We were fortunate that he was diagnosed very early without any resistance from our neuro-ophthalmologist.

We began consulting with Dr. Roman early. We started seeing her every 6 months for a few years. Now we visit her annually. So, we were luckier than many and have known about CVI for a long time.

How was Will’s early intervention experience with regard to CVI?

We already had begun learning about what CVI meant through our early intervention TVI, MaryAnne Roberto.   We were so fortunate that she was assigned to Will and had a lot of knowledge about CVI.  She pointed out Will’s behaviors that supported the diagnosis.  She helped us create an environment that accessed Will’s vision. She was also instrumental in linking us to Dr. Roman in Pittsburgh.  We started seeing her every 6 months for a few years.  Now we visit her annually. With our neuro-ophthalmologist, MaryAnne, and Dr. Roman, our knowledge of CVI and the world of accommodations began.

will with rl

Image:  Will with Dr. Roman-Lantzy and his dad

Does Will have other diagnoses you’d like to mention? 

Will lived in the land of “undiagnosed” for the first 5 years.  We had many diagnoses – global developmental delay, seizure disorder, failure to thrive requiring a feeding tube, non-verbal, non-ambulatory, CVI, hypotonia, microcephaly, cataracts – but no overarching name of the cause.

Genetic testing in first year was inconclusive.  When he was 5, we decided to revisit genetic testing.  In March of 2014, we received the call that our son has a rare genetic disorder called FOXG1syndrome.

FOXG1 syndrome is a spontaneous genetic mutation that affects approximately 300 children in the world.  Neither Will’s father nor I have this error, but when we looked at the characteristics of the syndrome – love of water, love of music, CVI, feeding issues, seizures – Will’s picture could have been posted next to the definition.   A diagnosis at last!

It did not change our interventions, but it did give us a group of parents who are also living with the consequences of FOXG1.

How is CVI being addressed in Will’s school setting? 

CVI in school has been a different story from our early intervention experience.  Our early intervention team embraced the CVI interventions that MaryAnne shared so generously.  It hasn’t been so easy in school.  The vision team is not educated in CVI.  They have been resistant to learning about it and adapting Will’s materials.  After 2 years with few adaptations and the purchase of a communication device by the school district, we have finally put our feet down and said enough is enough.  They cannot continue to work without making vision a priority.  So this year’s IEP reflects a lot of changes.  With the assistance of an advocate, we had a CVI endorsed TVI come in and complete a new CVI Range.  The score on the range revealed a loss of visual literacy.  That led to new goals and a significant increase in vision service time.  Sadly, the vision team still does not share my sense of urgency.  This is an ongoing source of friction.  It’s heartbreaking since we really want to have a better relationship with our TVI and Will’s vision team.

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

I would say two things to other moms.

First, do not give up.  Do not despair. Your child knows your voice and your touch.  He/she knows you even though they don’t seem to acknowledge you.  With time and training, your child WILL see you.

It was a momentous day when Will looked at me and “saw” me! He now has more than 12 feet of functional vision and can most likely see farther.

The second thing I want parents to remember is to presume competence!  I have found over and over that Will surprises me with what he knows and can do!  Set the bar high, work hard, and be amazed with what your child will do!!!

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

Other people should know that CVI is a vision impairment that is neurologic in nature.  With time, patience, and specific interventions and accommodations, vision can be improved! If a child can achieve a certain place on the CVI Range, he/she may sight read.  If that is achieved anything is possible for that child!

What are your hopes and dreams for Will?

Our goal for Will is to be the best Will he can be!  We don’t know what that is yet, but he is still full of possibilities! We will continue to work and help him achieve his greatness!!!

red haired will!Image:  Smiling Will wearing a Start Seeing CVI t-shirt

Thank you Maggie for sharing your journey with your handsome, red haired, well traveled young man!    He IS full of possibilities!  

Moms on Monday #16 / Dixie from KY

Good morning fellow families of lovable children who have Cortical Visual Impairment!

This morning’s Mom on Monday is Olivia’s mom, Dixie, from Kentucky.  Dixie is a Teacher of the Visually Impaired for Visually Impaired Preschool Services (VIPS) in Kentucky.  She provides early intervention to infants and toddlers with ocular visual impairments or Cortical Visual Impairment.  She also provides support to their families who often struggle to understand their children’s diagnoses.  Dixie has the unique perspective of experiencing a CVI diagnosis as a mother and of guiding other parents through their CVI experiences as an educator.   She was kind enough to take time out of her schedule to speak to me while driving home from vacation.  

IMG_20180225_182714209Image:  A smiling young girl and a woman in glasses.

What does Olivia like to do?  What makes her laugh?  What are some of her favorite things? Olivia is almost 14 years old and enjoys the things most teenagers enjoy.  She loves watching movies and TV.  Her favorite foods include hamburgers and spaghetti. She is not a fan of fruits or vegetables.  Olivia loves gymnastics and tumbling.  She loves playing outside.  She loves her dog.  She has a huge sense of humor.  She is always smiling or giggling about something.  IMG_20170904_153045146

When did Olivia join your family?  I had started providing foster care and was working as a Developmental Interventionist for First Steps (Kentucky’s early intervention system). Olivia’s biological mother was a drug addict.  At 2 months old, Olivia had been rushed to the ER because of malfunctioning valves in her heart.  She was pronounced dead at the hospital, but was resuscitated.  She experienced oxygen deprivation during all of this. Afterward, Olivia entered foster care and was staying with a foster parent who was a friend of mine.  They were waiting until Olivia was 6 months old to be able to perform surgery to fix the valves.  My mentor kept telling me, “Your daughter is down the street.”  I met her 10 days before surgery and fell in love with her.  The adoption was finalized when she was 9 months old.

How was Olivia’s early intervention experience?  We knew there was some brain damage because of her other diagnoses, Down syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and heart failure. We did not know the impact it would have. Olivia rolled over at a typical age of 3 months, but she lost skills as a result of the surgery.  At 9 months old, we started over.  She essentially lost a year of her life at the beginning.  She had developmental intervention, speech therapy,  and occupational therapy.  Olivia always loved to look at books in her developmental therapy.  When she was a baby, she would watch Baby Einstein videos.  CVI did not occur to me.

When did you first learn about CVI?  I knew her vision was off. Over the years, we went to 3 or 4 different eye doctors. When she started kindergarten, they said she was a little farsighted.  They said Olivia needed glasses, that all children with Down syndrome need glasses.  Then, they said she needed bifocals, but she just kept looking over the top of them.

By this time, I was working as a Teacher of the Visually Impaired for VIPS.  I asked for a Functional Vision Assessment at school. The school refused saying there was no diagnosis of legal blindness.

We went to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and saw Dr. Robert North.  He referred us to the Cincinnati Association of the Blind to do a Functional Vision Assessment.  When they began testing, they started making modifications for CVI without explaining what the modifications were for.  I recognized what they were doing, watched her respond, and realized that she had CVI.

Then, the lightbulbs started going off. I started to think about times when she was smaller and behaviors I did not understand.

Olivia had bad nystagmus as a baby.  She never crawled outside of the living room except for one time when I was vacuuming.   She ventured out to follow the vacuum all over the house.  Until then, she would not go out of the living room  – the familiar environment she knew.

How were you given the diagnosis? The Cincinnati Association of the Blind sent their report to Dr. North at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.  He gave us the diagnosis.  He was the first doctor we had seen who took the time to look at Olivia’s history and not blow us off.

How has CVI been addressed in Olivia’s school setting? When we came back with Dr. North’s diagnosis of CVI, she automatically qualified for vision services and federal quota funding.

Despite our trip to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and our prescription from Dr. North, the school’s TVI informed me that Olivia didn’t have CVI.  The TVI announced that Olivia was colorblind.

I told her, “You’re not an eye doctor.”

I had not told the school system that I was a Teacher of the Visually Impaired and that I was aware of the laws that regulated education for children with visual impairments.

I provided the first lightbox to Olivia’s school.  I borrowed it from VIPS.  As soon as they figured out it was working, they ordered one for their school.

It had taken a year to get the CVI diagnosis and to get the school system to recognize that Olivia was visually impaired.  By the first day of school in 1st grade, she qualified for “vision services,”  but I don’t know how much vision support she got.

We eventually went to see Dr. Roman because Olivia was in Phase III and folks didn’t know what to do with the higher levels of CVI.  Dr. Roman helped me realize that some of Olivia’s communication delays were really related to CVI.   She would often mix up the pronouns “him” and “her.” Olivia would sometimes look at a girl with short hair and say “him.” Dr. Roman explained that it is hard for children with CVI to figure out the details that define people and their gender.

Her school experience at the time was frustrating.  For 2 years, she had the same list of 15 sight words because she wasn’t learning all of them.  We lost a lot of time with this because the school didn’t realize that a word has to have meaning to Olivia for her to learn and to recognize them.

She learned words like “mom” and “dog” because she has a mom and a dog in her life.

Little words like “a,” “an,” and “the” don’t have meaning.  “It” was on the list.  How do you define “it”?  “This?”  How do you explain the word “This?”  And, you don’t really need the word “The.”

The longest word on the list, “friend,” was the one she learned because it had meaning for her.  It had a clear definition she could understand.

In teaching reading, I started to realize that the little sight words also create visual clutter.  We started using a curriculum for whole word learning which has a lot of similarity to how Dr. Roman uses highlighting and bubbling words.  (EdMark Reading Program)

What would you tell a mom whose child has just been identified with Cortical Visual Impairment? 

Cortical Visual Impairment doesn’t stand alone.  The children with this diagnosis usually have other diagnoses.  Many of the families I work with don’t know what CVI is.  They just hear “blind.”  They don’t know CVI can improve. When the vision of a child with CVI does improve, I get the joy of seeing their families experience moments that other parents would just take for granted.

Also, trust your mother instinct.  If something doesn’t seem right to you, keep asking.  Keep advocating.

My mom often tells me that everything has a season.  Both good or bad.  When something seems really bad, it will not last forever.  Everything has a season.

It has been so important for me to have that village of people you trust and who know and understand your child.  You need a village.

What do you know now that you wish you had known? 

I definitely wish she had gotten the CVI diagnosis sooner.  We wasted a lot of time not knowing about her vision.

What would you like people who’ve never heard of CVI to know? That visual clutter is everywhere.  Complexity will never go away 100%.  I educate people on that everyday in my job.  And Phase III is hard for people to understand.  People don’t realize Olivia is visually impaired.

Every child with CVI is different.  IMG_20171224_150802713

Hopes and dreams?  I just want her to do something that allows her to be a functioning member of society.  She loves babies and animals.  I hope she can eventually get a job doing something she loves.  I want her to be happy.

 

 

Thank you Dixie for sharing your experience!   Thank you for serving families like ours.  Thank you lovely Olivia for sharing your mom with us.  

Moms on Monday #14 / Jenny from IN

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

This morning’s Mom on Monday is Maya’s mom, Jenny, from Indiana.  Jenny and her family have been very active in advocating for early intervention services for children with vision loss.  In this post, Jenny takes on a common challenge to parents of children with CVI and ocular forms of visual impairment.  Take it away, Jenny!

maya

Image:  A girl in glasses gives a peace sign

I have two wonderful daughters, one of whom has CVI, Cortical Visual Impairment.  Maya is 7 years old now and in 2nd grade.  Her older sister, Zoey, is 8 and in 3rd grade.

Maya was born 2 weeks early on an overcast day in May.  Due to being rear ended in a car accident, I was in the ER, extremely pregnant, strapped to a back board, and wearing a C-collar.  I was watching the clock when the contractions started.  So began my journey in the world of having a “special needs child.”

Maya is a great kid who loves playing with her older sister.  Oh, there are times when she is extremely challenging, don’t get me wrong.  Right now her passion is butterflies.  Maya is as stubborn, determined, caring and sweet child who has never met a stranger.  At school she even has an amazing group of friends who look out for her.

I would like to talk about sleep.  Kiddos with a vision impairment can be, how can I put this?  Sleep challenged?  Let’s be honest, it can be a living nightmare for parents when their child can’t sleep.  It was for me.  She just wouldn’t sleep!  Maya was 2 years old at this point and climbing out of her crib when we first started talking about sleep.  I was looking particularly haggard at one Developmental Peds appointment when the doctor asked me if Maya was sleeping.  They recommended some melatonin and a sleep safe bed.  One insurance fight later, a big truck pulled out front with the miracle bed.  Let me tell you, it was worth every second of dealing with the insurance company.  The solution worked until Maya was 5 years old.  One day she discovered how to climb out of that thing.  This kid who walks like a drunken sailor can climb like a professional rock climber.  She would climb out of that bed, play in her room, and occasionally climb into bed with me, or go into her sister’s room and play.

Ok, I thought, I can deal with this.

Then, one night, she went outside.   I woke up to knocking on my bedroom window.

Good lord, it was Maya! Her knees were muddy where she had fallen, and her bare feet were cold.  She was bored playing by herself and wanted some company.  That was the worst night of my life.  My baby could have gotten seriously hurt and I was oblivious.  The thought never crossed my mind that she would go outside by herself!  I asked her why.  She said that she couldn’t sleep and decided to go play outside.  Oh, and she brought the family dog with her on her 2 a.m. outdoor adventure.  After that, my husband added alarms on Maya’s door, and every other door in the house that could lead to a potentially dangerous situation.  maya the great escape

Image:  A girl standing in a swing in the backyard

We changed tactics.  Instead of managing the situation, how do we make it better?  I googled, researched, and talked with my mom.  We tried everything from promising I-Pad time if she would stay in bed to taking away toys if she got out.  Nothing worked.  It felt like I was slowing losing my mind from not sleeping.  If she wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t sleeping.  I needed to make sure she was safe.

Maya has trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep.  Finally, I talked to experts.  I called every doctor and specialist that I could think of who might help.  Doctors we hadn’t seen in years!  I was drowning and she was too.  Due to being persistent and sobbing over the phone to a sympathetic nurse we got an appointment  with the sleep clinic and the nearest Children’s Hospital.  (Of course, we had to get a referral sent over first.)

We implemented the advice that the sleep clinic recommended and it kind of worked, but not all the time.   She was falling asleep at school at this point.  She was acting out because she was tired and cranky.  That got us bumped up to the sleep psychologist.  With their help we finally got a handle on the situation when they added some sleep medication in addition to the melatonin.  It helps her sleep through the night and not get up at 4 a.m. every morning.  She doesn’t sleep well every night, but most nights.  It goes in cycles really.

Here is what we do.

No screen time 2 hours before bed.  She is sensitive to blue light.  It sends her brain the wrong signals.  Instead of the signals – “It’s time to relax” and produce melatonin, she would play on the IPad all night long.

The doctor added an iron supplement because was have a family history of restless leg syndrome.  The doctor thinks it’s genetic.  Apparently, it can skip a generation and then crop back up again.  Awesome!  It takes about 3 months to build up to the correct level of iron.  Maya tested low on her iron.  Hopefully, the supplement will help.  In some cases, once that iron level is up to where it needs to be the restless leg goes away.  (Fingers crossed!)

We also took out all of her toys and distractions from her room and added a strict bedtime and a bedtime routine.

If your child isn’t sleeping, you are not alone.  Don’t wait.  Talk with the experts and get some help.   It will benefit your whole family and your marriage.

 

Thank you Jenny and Maya!  I read your post with great interest because sleep is a constant challenge for us too.  Thanks for sharing!

Moms on Monday / Storytelling is dangerous

“Storytelling is dangerous to those who profit from the way things are because it has the power to show that the way things are is not permanent.  Not universal and sometimes, not even necessary.” 

-Ursula Le Guin


 

Hello fellow families of delightful children who happen to be identified with Cortical Visual Impairment,

There are several mothers out there who have let me know that they are working on a post for Moms on Monday.  Ladies, I thank you. I’m a mom and it’s Monday, so I’m going to invite you once again to share a part of your and your child’s story with us. When you have the time, of course.

As we all know, and as Dr. Roman-Lantzy frequently says, CVI Moms are the busiest people we know.

We are the busiest people she knows because we are working tirelessly to get our children acknowledged and accommodated in a system that is not built to acknowledge or accommodate them.

The way things are is exhausting and discouraging.  

I hope to gather as many stories as possible as a resource of personal experiences for families. Every story is important.  Please know that there are no wrong answers.  You can write something original, or you can use the questions in the Calling All CVI Moms post as a starting point.  You can help another parent just by allowing your voice to be heard and allowing your child to be seen.


There is another reason for collecting stories.

As the writer Ursula Le Guin reminds us, the way things are is not permanent.

Not universal and not even necessary.

Let that percolate for a minute.

The way things are is not permanent

Not. Universal.

And 

Not. Even. Necessary. (This is my favorite part.)

We have a unique ability to assess the shortcomings of the systems we are fighting. (Did you ever think you’d be an expert on neurology, ophthalmology, neuroscience, & methods of teaching children with sensory loss?  Me neither.) 

From our shared experiences, we have the ability to imagine a better way and to work towards a Way things are” that recognizes and provides for children with CVI.  

Our stories will become a spotlight on inefficient, outdated methods of data collection and a tone deaf educational system. Our children matter. They need to be counted. They need to be taught, actually taught. (ACCESS! They must have access! They are not incidental learners! Sorry, I just had to get that out.)

As CVI families begin to advocate, they will find themselves in the offices of their elected officials and speaking in front of school boards. When CVI families begin to advocate, they may feel as though they are fighting an uphill battle (yep) and that they are alone (NOPE)

The methods of keeping track of our children on local, state, and even the federal level are woefully inadequate.  States vary in their expectation of counting children with special needs, and CVI does not even make it on the list of many states.  It is still called “Cortical Blindness” in many places.  We need to change that.

If the children are not identified, and not accounted for, then the funding necessary to provide resources will not be included in your state budget or the federal budget.

There are plenty of state legislators who will not want to give you the time of day because you and your story represent more expenses in your state’s government.  That is just too bad because it’s your budget too.  You live in and pay taxes in your state.  Heck, you vote!  (Please vote.)   Your friendly neighborhood legislator needs to meet with you, a friendly neighborhood constituent.

Here’s an example of the power of storytelling.

When we moved to Indiana, Eliza was 2 years old.  She had one more year of early intervention.  She was globally delayed.  We qualified for several therapies, occupational, physical, speech and developmental therapy.  I was so grateful to have access to these services.  I knew, however, that her lack of usable vision was going to affect how useful all the other therapies were, so I asked about early intervention for vision loss.

I was directed to the Indiana First Steps matrix – the database for all of the providers in the state.  When I entered “visual impairment,”  the name of an Optometry professor at Indiana University came up.

One name.

For the entire state.

And, the description mentioned making an appointment to come to his office to have your child assessed for glasses.  Not home visits.  Not early intervention.

What about the children who were blind?  Or, who, like Eliza, were legally blind due to Cortical Visual Impairment and who needed to be taught to see?

I asked around and was referred to the Indiana State School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.  I was able to set up an appointment with the Outreach TVI who came to my house to meet Eliza and me a few weeks later.  She was the most wonderful and experienced TVI.  She knew about CVI.  She understood the lack of access and calmed my fears.  She gave me several articles and showed me some ways to interact with Eliza that had not occurred to me.  She stayed for over 2 hours.

My prayers were answered.

I asked to schedule our next appointment.

And, I discovered that this wonderful TVI had a caseload of over 300 children.

One teacher was the entire early intervention team for infants and toddlers who were blind or had severe vision loss.  She drove around the state staying as long as she could, providing everything she could in the very limited time and with the very limited resources available to her.  She knew it was not nearly enough.  What she provided was what the system would allow.

It was just how things were.

By the time she could see Eliza again, Eliza would have aged out of early intervention.

How was that okay?

To make a long story a tad shorter, I eventually found myself testifying before committees at the Indiana Statehouse about the lack of early intervention for infants and toddlers with vision loss.  I poured my heart out about how hard it had been to have a baby I could not reach while some committee members chatted or got up and left. (Not all. Some were very receptive.)  I had meetings with state representatives who did not crack a smile the entire time I sat across from them.   It was easy to walk away from these experiences and think that nothing would change.

I also had meetings with state representatives to vowed to work with me and did.

statehouse

Image:  Three women seated around a table.  Annie Hughes and Rebecca Davis meeting with policy staff at Indiana Statehouse.

Over time and with the help of Indiana State Senator Mark Stoops, and his brilliant policy director, LeNee Carroll, Indiana made changes to its Birth Defects Registry (worst. name. ever.).  We got CVI and visual impairments added.  We were able to advocate for and to build a system of early intervention services specifically for children with vision loss.

We (that wonderful TVI, Annie Hughes, an agency called Visually Impaired Preschool Services, and a group of kickass families) changed the way things were.  

It can be done.

After your interaction with the cranky legislator who does not want to fund more services for children with special needs, you can tell Rep. Cranky to go to CVI Momifesto to meet more parents of children with CVI and to learn more about what they have gone through.  The stories here can provide back up.

There is more back up on the way.  2018 will indeed be a turning point in the awareness of CVI.  Many CVI moms are working to make sure of this.

You have the power to change the way things are.

gals

Image:  Three women standing with arms linked.  Meredith Howell (CVI Mom) and Annie Hughes from VIPS Indiana, and Rebecca Davis

 

 

Moms on Monday #13 / Rachel from MD

Good morning fellow families of lovable kiddos who happen to have Cortical Visual Impairment!

This morning’s Mom on Monday is Rachel from Maryland.  Rachel’s son, Henry, was identified fairly recently as having the characteristics of CVI.  Rachel hit the ground running educating herself and advocating for her son and our children at the National Institutes of Health.  (See a photo that will make your day below!)

Right now, I am the closest I’ve ever been to truly knowing my son.

My sweet, joyful, funny Henry who is always ready for a hug, a dance party, or a bus ride, but so often is frustrated to the point of tears by the mundane challenges that other 5 years olds negotiate so effortlessly.

Since he was born, we have puzzled over Henry’s vision problems, coupled with developmental delays and behavioral outbursts. Then, only 8 months ago, for the first time, a therapist suggested he had the characteristics of CVI. This moment changed everything.

Rachel and Henry

Rachel and Henry schooling the medical community about the characteristics of CVI at the National Institutes of Health.  How cool is this picture?  

Henry’s vision was always a mystery—at least that’s what every doctor told me.

We saw a pediatric ophthalmologist, neurologist, neuro-ophthalmologist at Children’s National in DC, pediatric genetic ophthalmologist at the National Institute for Health, and no one ever mentioned CVI. This included a series of vision teachers that had worked with Henry since he was 1. So of course, I took the wait-and-see approach. If these doctors and teachers aren’t sure, then Henry’s vision must be a mystery. (Yep, that’s me screaming right now. The daily anger has not yet subsided.)

Our appointments were dominated with conversation about Henry’s ocular issues: his nystagmus and pale, small(ish) optic nerves. Henry also has hypotonia (low muscle tone), vestibular processing issues, and global developmental delays (high fives to all you CVI parents who spend the evenings and weekends at therapy appointments!).

We spent Henry’s first two years of life trying to get him to eat enough. He was in the zero percentile for weight for way too long. By now, he eats nonstop, and we are grateful to be out of survival mode. Like we all have heard, our kids are unique cases, complicated, with a lot of things going on.

But this still doesn’t justify why CVI was not on our radar sooner (I still kick myself for not figuring out on my own that he has CVI).

So back to this moment that changed everything. Henry was in a Pre-K program for students with special education services. His teacher kept asking me about his vision and I kept going back to Henry’s primary ophthalmologist, who told me that his vision was fine (yes, his acuity was in the normal range) and that Henry has attention and behavioral issues that need to be addressed. I naively told Henry’s teacher this and I am forever grateful that she did not listen to me. She got a specialist from the vision office to observe Henry who then recommended him for the Vision Pre-K class.

At Henry’s IEP meeting 8 months ago, one of the vision teachers at the table said, “You know, Henry has characteristic behaviors of CVI.”

I sat there, mouth open, frozen with confusion, and muttered, “What is CVI?” I later learned that this TVI attended a CVI training with Dr. Sandra Newcomb, one of the leading experts on CVI who also recently completed Henry’s CVI Range Assessment—Henry’s in Phase 2 (Roman-Lantzy).

From what I hear from CVI parents across the country, a TVI knowledgeable about CVI is the exception. It is unacceptable that our kids do not have access to trained vision teachers who can provide interventions.

We know that our kids can learn to see with the appropriate interventions (Roman-Lantzy), so why, WHY, do universities refuse to include coursework on CVI?

A side note on Henry’s current Vision Pre-K class. Henry’s teacher is a TVI knowledgeable about CVI. The physical environment is CVI friendly and all tasks are modified for Henry’s CVI. There are 8 students in the class with a range of vision issues, half of which have CVI. The school’s OT, PT, and Speech therapists adapt their work based on Henry’s CVI needs. Even the PE teacher develops activities adapted for the blind and visually impaired. I know, is this for real? It is. Henry’s placement is an anomaly in this country. Every child with CVI deserves this opportunity. Unfortunately, this vision program stops at Pre-K and because Henry is low-incidence (I. Hate. This. Term), he has fewer options available for Kindergarten. So I join the ranks of fierce parent advocates to ensure my son’s needs are met and that he has access to all aspects of the learning environment.

It’s been a whirlwind trying to learn as much as I can about CVI, while processing the range of emotions that come with this new diagnosis—gratitude, anger, relief, frustration, excitement, WHY MY SON?!, and hope. Dr. Roman-Lantzy’s brilliance and expertise continues to help me and thousands of families help our kids see.

Brenda, creator of Start Seeing CVI, said it best, “She is our Annie Sullivan.” Dr. Roman-Lantzy, thank you from the depths my heart for enabling me to truly understand my son.

I know my son now. I know why he doesn’t use or rely on his vision. I know why he has frequent meltdowns and why he has trouble with transitions. I know why he’s never looked me in the eye and why he requires constant hugs. I know why he hates reading books and doing fine motor tasks. I know why he has difficulty with attention and is always on the move. I know why he loves yellow buses and yellow everything. I know why he doesn’t recognize me when I pick him up at daycare. I know why he always holds my hand when ever we are outside or in a new environment. I know why he can’t find something that dropped onto a patterned rug. I know why reading and writing will be a struggle, but he will learn to read and he will learn to write. I know my sweet Henry, I know how to be his parent, and I am filled with immense gratitude.

What has been my one of my greatest joys lately is connecting with CVI moms from across the country. Being able to revel in our shared experiences, to ask questions, share resources and strategies, to get fired-up, and to know that I have these brilliant and fierce woman to lean on, gets me through the exhaustion and unsure moments.

This year is the first of many years of being a CVI tiger mom. To make sure the medical and education fields wake up to CVI, so no parent is ever left wondering why their child’s vision is a mystery. And no parent ever has to sit in an eternal IEP meeting trying to convince the team to take their child’s CVI seriously.

To all the CVI parents out there, the highest of fives. Onward!

Thank you Rachel and Henry!   

To purchase your or your child’s own Start Seeing CVI t-shirt, go to https://startseeingcvi.com/buy-the-t-shirt/.  Just in time for IFSP or IEP season!  Half of the proceeds from purchase will go to support the Pediatric CVI Society, the only non-profit organization dedicated exclusively to Cortical Visual Impairment.

 

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!  

“What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

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

This post is about gratitude for people who made my Grinch’s small heart grow at least 3 times this year.  (It’s just not the holiday season until someone quotes the Grinch.  You’re welcome.)

1. Javier

He is the kindest bus aide I have ever seen.  (And, believe me, I watch.) He does not know I am writing this, so I will call him “Javier.”  Javier greets us every morning with a big smile. He gallantly offers her his hand as they count the bus stairs together.  He asks her permission to help her scoot over and tells her when he is putting her bus belt on.  Eliza smiles when she hears his voice.  She takes his hand without any reservation.  She knows she is safe with him.  Because of this, I would offer this man a kidney without any reservations whatsoever.

Javier has seen me in the most mismatched excuses for sleepwear/sportswear as I roll out her chair every morning.  The man has never seen my hair brushed, folks.  He has also chided me for going out in the cold without a coat. In the rush of the morning routine, I hadn’t realized I needed one.  My mother would have approved.

Here’s the thing that GOT me.  One day, as Javier lowered the ramp to load her wheelchair, I noticed he was wearing a suit and dress shoes.  I thought maybe he had a job interview or a court appointment.   I didn’t think anymore about it, until a week later, when he wore another suit and tie.  I complimented his outfit again. He smiled, a little embarrassed by my effusiveness.

I realized the suit was a regular sort of thing, so I complimented him again the next week.

Javier shrugged and smiled.  “I just want to look professional.”

Shivering in front of our house, wearing mismatched socks, grubby sweatpants, and my husband’s t-shirt, I took that in.

I remembered one morning early this year when I went to Eliza’s school to watch how the bus transition was working.  Another bus carrying children with special needs was in line before Eliza’s bus.  The driver opened the door and came down the stairs to unload the equipment.

That guy wore a t-shirt that said – well, how do I put this?  The shirt had the emoji that most resembles chocolate soft serve (if you get my meaning) and it said “@#*t happens.”

What kind of message does a shirt like that send to the children and their families? And, to the other students?

Scowling, I watched “Mr. Soft Serve” lower two very complicated kids in wheelchairs to the ground without a word or a touch.  He transferred the boys like he was delivering boxes for UPS.

When Javier told me, a little sheepishly, “I just want to look professional,”  I realized the effort he put in to look his best for my girl and, I suppose, for me.

I had a sudden urge to hug this man and to make him president of the universe.  I did neither, since a restraining order from our local school system is one headache I do not need.  They already think I am weird enough.

hands

2.  5th graders rule the world

Eliza attends morning meeting at a 5th grade classroom in her school.  She goes in with an aide and her IPad or a Big Mack button to answer questions.

She also goes in with the widest smile I have ever seen on her face.

The students have welcomed her.  They call her by name when she comes in to see them and when they see her in the hallway.

Earlier in the semester, their teacher, Mr. K, and the principal allowed me to give a brief presentation to this class.  I talked about her diagnoses, especially CVI.  I asked them to identify themselves when they greet her because she has a hard time identifying people – even people she knows. I explained that she has difficulty with depth perception so she may walk unevenly and she might need to hold someone’s hand.   I told them it is a challenge for her to take in too much information – visual and auditory – at the same time.  I asked them to be patient with her and to understand that she can understand them, but that she needs more time.

Eliza’s teacher has been instrumental in scheduling the time necessary for these vital moments of social education for her.

This week, she sent me a few pictures of Eliza and some of the 5th graders outside during a break.  They were walking with her, holding her hand.

These are the first pictures anyone has ever given me of Eliza hanging out with a child who is not her own sister.  So, there’s that.  Where ARE the tissues when you need them?

Ifyou read an earlier post, you may remember that 3 of the girls have come up with a project to make a communication device for Eliza.  They prepared a PowerPoint for Eliza’s teacher who sent it to me.

The girls met with us to try different materials for the switches.  They showed me, um,  wires and things, and there was a laptop involved… ok!  I don’t get this stuff!

As I sat there and tried to understand the technology speak coming out of their mouths, I realized

  1. They will be leaders some day. 
  2. Their compassion and their technological expertise will create new opportunities for children like Eliza. 

Last week, they presented their project to the PTA who agreed to fund the materials needed to make this device.  

They met a kid.  They were curious.

They saw a problem.  They came up with a solution.

They found a way to make it happen.

We will see what happens next after winter break.  I am looking forward to learning from these young ladies who are as kind as they are intelligent.

Yes, when 5th graders rule with world, we will all be just fine.

hands together

Here’s to the people who are gifts in our lives.

They brighten our days just by caring and extending a hand.

 

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?

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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?