It was in the home stretch of a long summer road trip with my son who has cortical visual impairment (CVI), when a CVI like experience emerged on the road before us.
By then we had been driving for seven days straight.
The weather was hot and wildfire smoky across the western US, well into the midwest. But it had been sunny, mostly blue skies, not a storm cloud on the horizon. This changed in Pennsylvania. The grey clouds from the previous day had not budged and the forecast for our last day of driving, the final stretch, called for rain later that morning. By then we would be well on our way, speeding toward the New Jersey state line. Shortly after getting on the road, raindrops dotted the windshield. When you are from Seattle, you become accustomed to driving in rain. As Jasper would say, “No big deal.” Those few drops quickly turned into a deluge on the freeway, in the middle of nowhere. The low grey clouds skimmed the tops of the trees that dominated the landscape, creating foggy conditions. Semis and large vehicles created spray, further diminishing visibility. The road itself curved and turned, this way and that, endlessly and unpredictably for someone who was travelling these roads for the first time. Hands firmly on the steering wheel, the focus was driving.
In the midst of it, it was hard not to compare the experience with cortical visual impairment.
Normally, rain is no big deal. But these were unfamiliar roads, making it impossible to predict or anticipate what might come next (novelty). The heavy fog and spray reduced the amount of visual information. The road ahead was mostly invisible, there were no visual clues as to what was coming next.
Also we had not anticipated driving through a storm that day. According to the weather, our early departure would help us outrun it. Unfortunately weather patterns are not that reliable.
In the back seat was Jasper. Sitting up front, sitting up tall as I could manage, all of my attention on the road, from the back seat came a stream of questions. “Are there hand dryers that are both automatic and manual?” “How do they get the logs on the truck?” “Where’s [this or that] toy?” The questions and the thinking required for responses, were too much for the level of concentration needed to navigate the stormy stretch of highway. Add to this, the rapid movement and regular WHOOSH of the windshield wipers dancing wildy in front of me. There was no space in my brain to attend to questions or sounds, the radio had long since been turned off (sensory complexity). All energy was on navigating the storm.
Nothing lasts forever. After a while, longer than I would have liked, the rain eased, the clouds broke, and we regained the momentum of our journey. Onward.
For a grown up, the sensory complexity was about the passing storm, which was temporary and came to an end. For children with CVI, the storm is never far away, and always unpredictable.