The last day of school before holiday break was pajama day. Pajamas can be hard for my son who has cortical visual impairment (CVI), especially the idea of wearing them during the day when it is not routine. When we talked about it, I made sure to suggest his favorite, Batman pajamas, to make it meaningful and help motivate him to participate in the social experience of wearing pajamas with his friends at school. “Do you want to wear stripey pajamas – or Batman?!?” “Batmaaan!!” he said throatily, excited.
Chuck is a boy in my son’s first grade class who wears Star Wars everything. Until recently, Chuck was the only other boy with hair as long as Jasper’s, except Chuck’s hair is black. Chuck’s Star Wars outfits have been an ongoing conversation topic, with me specifically pointing it out to my son. Reminding Jasper about wearing his Batman pajamas to school the next day, and thinking of Chuck, I added, “I bet Chuck will be wearing Star Wars pajamas.” Jasper asked, Why?
“Well, Chuck wears a Star Wars hoodie every day, and Star Wars shoes, and Star Wars backpack, and has a Star Wars water bottle…” the list was endless but those were the items that came to mind. After saying all of that, Jasper asked:
“How do we know Chuck likes Star Wars?”
It was easy to see that Jasper had not equated Chuck’s Star Wars flair with his love of Star Wars. As a parent of a child with CVI, it is hard seeing him miss out on the social learning among his peers that goes along with that. The way that kids connect and share and bond around their clothing choices, their likes, the characters on their lunch box, their budding sense of self and expressions of who they are. You can learn about your friends by seeing what they wear to school on pajama day. These visual cues help us learn about friends, and can be bridges to connecting with new friends. How does a child with CVI participate in the social experience of pajama day with his classmates? How does he have visual access?
At school drop off I stayed until Chuck walked into the classroom. Instead of Star Wars’ BB-8 or Darth Vader or a storm trooper, there was a fox on Chuck’s pajama top. We talked to Chuck about being surprised that he was not wearing Star Wars. (His mom explained that Chuck had recently outgrown nearly all of his pajamas, just like Jasper). As kids trickled in that morning, still dressed for bed, we talked about what pajamas they wore. Other kids complimented Jasper’s Batman pajamas. Leaving the room was hard, knowing Jasper’s access would disappear along with me.
Children with cortical visual impairment do not experience the same kind of incidental learning as their typically sighted peers (Roman). Even a student who is in Phase III CVI, who uses his vision for most tasks, who often does not even appear to have a visual impairment (Roman), does not have the same access to incidental learning. As adults, parents, teachers, it is our duty to provide that access so that our kids with CVI can participate meaningfully in social occasions like pajama day, and can learn, and connect, and make friends. Just like all the other kids.