When my son who has cortical visual impairment (CVI) was in preschool, it was important that he had visually accessible books. Most of the books in his classroom were filled with bright, multicolored, visually complex illustrations (complexity, Roman). Bright Baby makes a series of books that uses realistic photographic images and plain, solid color backgrounds. The books are inexpensive, easy to modify, and are one of the few items that CVI parents do not have to make themselves from scratch.
Back then, Jasper was in late Phase II CVI (Roman). Per the work of Christine Roman-Lantzy, our focus was shifting to discrimination of salient features as my son approached Phase III CVI. Hours were spent looking at plastic animals and their salient features, and using comparative language to talk about how two animals could be alike or different (“horse and zebra both have a long head and mane, but a zebra always has black and white stripes”) (Roman). Note: Color is rarely used as a salient feature and only when it is always true for that object (Roman).
Salient features are the key elements that help us recognize an object (Roman). Those of us with neurotypical vision do this unconsciously, in a fraction of a second, without any effort or thought. When you work with a child who has CVI, you can see the effort that our kids put into identifying salient features. Sometimes you can time it. And the rest of us do this effortlessly.
In the book it is easy to add a label that lists the salient features next to each animal picture. Salient features are then color highlighted on the picture. By labelling the salient features, they are always consistent, no matter who looks at the book with your child; everybody is using the same language. Because this modification is easy and inexpensive, you can make two copies and leave one at school. Including the salient features this way also helps parents train school staff on how to identify salient features and the importance of using consistent language with a child with CVI (Roman).
Salient features are harder than you think. If you have the revised edition of Cortical Visual Impairment, As Approach to Assessment and Intervention, by Christine Roman-Lantzy, it includes a sample salient features dictionary. This is a good place to start. Think about it – what makes a dog a dog? What makes that dog different from a cat? How do you know? These are the kinds of questions that I ask my son, now in Phase III CVI (Roman), all the time. The thoughtfulness that we put into coming up with salient features is a good analogy for the thoughtfulness that is required in everything you do when you are working with child who has cortical visual impairment.