When it comes to looking at books with my son who has cortical visual impairment (CVI), there is a specific approach. He is in Phase III CVI (Roman-Lantzy) and there are some books that we buy off the shelf, and look at unmodified. As always, when it comes to choosing books, the goal is to feed his interest in literacy by choosing subjects that will be meaningful and motivating. Recently we picked up This is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from Around the World, by Matt Lamothe. My son is incredibly social and highly interested in people and other kids, my suspicion was that he would like the book. Since buying it several weeks ago, Jasper has read it every night at bedtime. When he reads the book to me in the dim evening light, I can tell that he has the book memorized.
When looking at any new book – or anything new – my questions are always open ended (Roman). We do not look at books with me pointing out and naming everything on the page. My son needs the opportunity to use his vision and when somebody names all the pictures for him, and does not give him a chance, he loses that chance forever. So with each page, the question is, Jasper, what do you see? If pictures and words are too much complexity, you can always block out or cover those areas.
At the start of This Is How We Do It, each child is pictured in a rectangle, four rectangles to a page, so eight rectangles for each page spread. For the most part, this is the format throughout the book. We read the words and look at the pictures. Jasper comments on this or that but nothing is named for him. He simply looks.
On the family page, each child appears with his or her family, again in that four rectangle format. For a long time, my son had speech and communication delays. So when looking at pictures or animals – or anything – instead of using the term salient features, I asked, What does the animal have? An elephant has big floppy ears and a trunk! Looking at the Italian family, I quietly spot an interesting detail to ask Jasper about. What does the older brother have? He looked for a few seconds and said, laughing, “He has a man bun!!”
Looking at the book with another CVI parent recently, he asked my son what the younger Japanese sister was holding. Jasper had looked at this picture many times, but had never been asked this question. A dog! he answered. When asked what particular dog, Jasper did not know, as Snoopy is less familiar for him.
The best thing about looking at the kids’ pictures in the beginning of the book is that you can then look for the kids later in the book, in settings that are more complex (Roman). For the Japanese student, we can look for her walking to school through the streets of Tokyo.
Once “Kei” gets to her classroom, we can look for her there. Where is Kei? “There she is!” my son says excitedly. He knows it is her when he sees her striped dress (salient features).
There are endless opportunities to do this when looking at any book. Looking at the play page recently, Jasper spots the student from Russia on the lower half of the page playing hockey, “There’s Oleg!” he says, as if he has spotted a friend. Each player wears a helmet and mask, obscuring most of the face. This is where we ask the second critical question, How do you know? “How do you know that is Oleg?” Because his hair, Jasper tells me. Looking close, small tufts of light brown hair can be seen around the helmet. It helped that he has looked at this book many times, but is still impressive.
At the end of the book, the squares are gone, and there is a two page spread of open sky, This is my night sky. “Whose night sky is that, Jasper?” Everybody’s, he tells me.
When we ask our kids with CVI, What do you see? we give them that golden opportunity to use their vision. The question helps them learn about what they are looking at, they get to practice discerning those salient features (Roman). And when he ask them, What do you see, we learn a little more about how our kids see the world.