“Does the mailman know Santa?”

“Does the mailman know Santa?”

When your child with CVI comes into the classroom, it is often the first time that educators are hearing the words “cortical/cerebral visual impairment.” Training new educational teams or therapists or providers on CVI means learning about the visual brain, CVI Range, guiding principles, CVI behaviors and characteristics, the goals of each CVI Phase, and what CVI looks like for your child. In all of this, the approaches of salient features and comparative language (Roman) can get lost in the mix.

At home salient features and comparative language become… a second language. And second nature. For my son in Phase III CVI, two of the most important questions are, What do you see? and How do you know? These questions are not a pop quiz, but rather to help others understand how he sees. And to help him better understand his visual world. Part of training new school teams or new providers is emphasizing the importance of these two approaches. The best way to put it is, This is how my child has learned to see, this is how my child makes sense of what he is looking at. When you ask him the question, What do you see? you understand what he is visually attending to. Is he interpreting the whole object, or seeing only a portion of the object? Are those antlers on top of the deer’s head, or is that a tree rising up behind a dog? Because this is how he makes sense of his visual world, it is important to know and use these strategies, all the time. Before you can teach him, it is important to understand what he is seeing, and not seeing.

At some point, my son’s questions took on a different tone. While looking at one object, he seemed to be thinking about a different object, or using visual memory (yes, our children with CVI are capable of building visual memory). When consulting Christine Roman about this curious turn in his learning, she summed it up without missing a beat: “Comparative thought. He’s got it and will have it for life.” He has learned it, with all of our practice highlighting and talking about salient features and comparing one object to another and learning how objects can be similar and different. All of the time, all of that hard work paid off. He will have it for life. He will have cortical visual impairment for life, but he will also have comparative thought. Dr Roman describes comparative thinking as “the PhD. of CVI.”

It all came together perfectly one day when Jasper was in the bath tub before school. It’s hard to remember if it was late September or early October. One of Jasper’s chores was checking the mail but it was still early morning, and the mail carrier would not bring the mail until later in the afternoon. Christmas was a comfortable distance away, at least in my mind, far enough away that we had not yet begun to talk about holidays or presents or Santa. Both topics, checking the mail and Santa, are meaningful in his life. After soaking for a while – he loved to lay back with his head and ears partly submerged, enjoying the sensory environment and solitude of the water – he sat up and asked, without prompting, “Mommy – does the mailman know Santa??” It was not that he was thinking about the holidays, exactly. It was more like, People who bring things to my house.  The mail carrier brings me mail. Santa brings me presents.  

Does the mailman know Santa? It was his most abstract comparative thinking. He’s got it and will have it for life.


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