“Mommy, I can’t wear my glasses trick or treating because my mask goes over my face.” Until then it had not occurred to me that his head to toe Batman costume meant that friends would not likely recognize him at the first trick or treat in our new town. The more strict school security meant no access to classrooms, no access to kids and parents at his new school. The hope was that Halloween would mean bumping into some new school friends, meeting families. Having a child with cortical visual impairment (CVI) who cannot recognize faces, makes it extra hard to recognize friends on Halloween.
So it was a surprise when we arrived at the trick or treat early and heard another boy call out, Jasper! We are always arriving places early, when there are fewer kids, when there is less going on, less movement, less sensory and visual complexity (CVI characteristics, Roman). The boy was standing near a bench, where his parents were seated behind him. Jasper was silent and hesitant, as the boy who had called his name took a few steps toward us.
The boy wore a head to toe costume. The outfit was red and covered his face and head, including his hair, just like Jasper’s. Jasper had not yet figured out who this boy was. Instead of asking the boy his name, I casually observed, “Jasper is dressed as Batman, and you’re dressed up as Spider-Man.” The other boy swiftly responded, “I’m not Spider-Man – I’m Deadpool!” It was not until then, until after hearing the boy’s voice, that Jasper recognized his friend from school, got excited and announced, “It’s Donovan!!” I corrected myself, telling Jasper that Donovan’s costume was not Spider-Man but Deadpool, while making a silent note to myself to Google Deadpool later on.
Although Jasper was covered in costume, head to toe, his friend from school was quickly able to recognize him. Yet Jasper did not know this boy, not even at close range, could not recognize him until he heard his voice. Our children with CVI learn to identify people by their voices, a compensatory strategy when it is so hard to recognize faces. It was easy to see that Jasper had relied solely on the sound of the boy’s voice, a perfect illustration of how he has come to recognize others.
When it comes to our kids with CVI and recognizing familiar friends, family, mom, us, it is almost like we are all wearing head to toe costumes, all the time.