“Stay on the right side of the path…”
Most of the time, regardless of the season, we hike at least once a week. If you were trailing along behind us, you would hear me calling out different iterations of the phrase, Stay to the right... Over and over, often in short succession.
“Remember to stay on the right…”
As a parent, and especially as the parent of a child with cortical visual impairment (CVI), you come up with ideas and compensatory strategies, thinking you are helping your child. Someday finding objects will be easier because I taught him to put things back in the same place each time. As parents we have the best intentions, right?
“Right side, Jasper! All users stay on the right.”
When it comes to hiking and staying on the right side of the trail, it is all about safety. “Jasper, when we go hiking, everybody walks on the right side of the trail so that we are safe and predictable and we do not run into other people.” Or dogs, which for him is a far greater concern than running into people. It is hiking etiquette 101 – all trail users stay to the right. This means that hikers coming toward us on the opposite side of the trail, are on our left and there are no unintended collisions.
I have found many ways to say “Stay on the right” to my son, as if explaining it in terms of safety will help him remember. As parents we explain that everything is about safety. Most everything mommy tells you, Jasper, is about safety. It’s about keeping you safe, it’s about keeping kids safe.
“Show me the right side of the trail, Jasper.”
Each time, he drifts back over to the left. Lately when we hike, this has been on my mind. Why is it hard for him to hike on the right side? Why does he not remember to stay to the right? Moments after saying, “Right side…” there he goes, drifting back to the left again.
Why does he not remember? Is it hard for him to follow directions? Is it “behavior”? Is it intentional? Does he have a short attention span?
And that is when I stop. That is when I begin considering my son’s leftward drift from the perspective of his disability, cortical visual impairment. Thinking about the ten characteristics of CVI. Complexity, light, movement…preferred visual fields.
Along with visual fields, are the words that will forever echo somewhere inside my mind. Infant stroke. Occipital lobes. Greater on the right side than the left.
Visual fields. No matter how many times he hears mommy say, “Right side of the trail, Jasper,” he has to drift back to the left. In addition to lower visual field loss, he has left peripheral field loss on both sides, homonymous hemianopsia. He hikes on the left because doing so gives him the best view of the trail, with everything to his right. Dirt, trees, other hikers, dogs, mommy, everything.
When Jasper walks on the left side of the path, he brushes past bushes and plants and trees with the left side of his body. This physical contact tells him where the edge of the trail is. His body tells him what his brain cannot see.
When he hikes on the right side of the trail, where mommy reminds him to walk, he cannot see. His visual field is greatly diminished. He cannot see the trail or anything to his left. He cannot see half of the trail or anything coming toward him from that side. He cannot see the oncoming hiker, or trail runner, or off leash dog bounding toward him on the left, out of sight. Hiking on the left is how he naturally compensates for his loss.
As a parent, considering his cortical visual impairment and visual fields and hiking and what he cannot see is one more step on the long path of acceptance. Jasper can hike, he can carry his own backpack, but he cannot see the trail to his left. We hike along quietly, no longer calling out “right side” and I watch him make his way along the trail, the best way that he can. And together, we both move forward.