For children with cortical visual impairment (CVI), learning to visually identify salient features is a critical skill to making progress. These days we know that best practice is to incorporate salient features language earlier rather than later, while being mindful that our language does not compete with a child’s ability to use vision (Roman-Lantzy). Salient features are those two or three word descriptors that define an object, that are the essence of that object. Cupness. Treeness. That favorite hanging toyness. Mommyness.
Salient features should always be visual (Roman-Lantzy). Bark, moo and neigh are not visual salient features because these are sounds we hear, and not details we can see. As CTVI Matt Tietjen puts it, a salient feature is something you can point to in a black and white line drawing. That is how elemental it is. That is how we need to be thinking when working with a child who has CVI.
One of the most important factors around teaching salient features is the need to be consistent (Roman-Lantzy). That means, if your child is in an early intervention program, or preschool, or public school, everybody needs to be on the same page, using the same salient features language and descriptors. So at home, if an elephant’s salient features are big floppy ears and long trunk, then those same descriptors need to be used at school. One solution for this is the salient features dictionary (Roman-Lantzy). This would be a dictionary of familiar objects with two to three descriptors listed. An every day object such as toothbrush, could be long handle and brush. Some of these every day objects could share nearly universal salient feature terms, from one student with CVI to the next. What our kids with CVI all have in common are the ten characteristics of CVI (Roman-Lantzy). But what is meaningful is different for each child. So a salient features dictionary would look different from child to child. The salient features for the family car will be different. Or for your child’s favorite drink cup. Or that hanging g-raff toy that goes everywhere with your infant, constantly moving. And meaningful is so important. When your visual world is five to ten feet wide at most, you start with what is close, meaningful.
Lately, so many CVI moms are asking about salient features.
When you start to think about the world around us, and everything in it, the idea of teaching salient features to your child can be overwhelming. It feels especially overwhelming for parents, who are often the ones leading the charge when it comes to making toys and creating routines and modifying books and materials and generally making the world visually accessible for your child with CVI.
When it comes to already exhausted CVI parents and salient features, you can sense the trepidation and weariness, along with determination and grit. Rest assured.
Our job is not to teach our children with CVI the monumental task of learning the salient features of every single object on the planet. Learning salient features is not about studying or rote memorization. Our job is to teach our children with CVI how to identify the salient features of the object or picture in front of them. Our job is to use color highlighting and salient features language (Roman-Lantzy) to teach our children with CVI how to identify those salient features themselves. (And it gets more complicated when we add in comparative thought, Roman-Lantzy.) Salient features are about how our kids with CVI learn to see. The visual brain, and neuroplasticity, and the CVI Range are the good news of cortical visual impairment.