CVI birthday characteristics

IMG_7898When you are planning a birthday party for your child with cortical visual impairment (CVI), it is hard not to think about the ten characteristics (Roman). How many people to invite? What color cake? Where to have the party, someplace familiar, like home, or someplace new? Let’s take a look at the CVI characteristics in light of birthdays.

Color. There are endless ways to incorporate your child’s preferred color (Roman) at a birthday party. Red balloons. Elmo cake. You might request that guests bring gifts wrapped in red, yellow or maybe silver paper. For a long time, my son’s preferred color, yellow, meant cupcakes with yellow ducky toppers. Several birthdays later, we moved on to the yellow Batman logo cake. This year’s cake might not be yellow, but you can bet his name on the cake will be…yellow. Are you planning a party in a public place, such as a park? Be sure to wear that bright yellow hat (even if yellow is not your preferred color) or pink jacket or other clothing in his preferred color to help your child keep track of you when you are not right by his side. To keep him happy, be sure to let your kiddo know where he can look to find mommy.

Movement. Lots of guests means lots of movement. Movement can help her see that balloon, or locate that first birthday present. Movement also means the birthday kiddo gets preferential seating, facing away from movement, when it is time for things like eating cake, opening presents. Anytime you want your child with CVI to visually attend to something, even when it is not her birthday, be sure she is facing away from movement.

Latency. When introducing guests (especially somebody who is unfamiliar) or handing over birthday presents, allow plenty of time for your child with CVI to look and respond. To this I would add, allow plenty of time for your child to handle any new object given to him.

Visual field preferences. It’s her party, so be sure to arrange that pile of gifts up on a table, rather than stacked on the floor where she might not see them or worse, trip over them. Many kids with CVI have lower visual field deficits, so let’s put things where our kids can see them. Present each gift in her preferred visual field.

Complexity. Lots of guests means lots of complexity, including complexity of array, difficulty with faces, and sensory complexity (Roman). For moments such as eating cake or opening gifts, reduce visual complexity by having the child facing a blank wall or a space with less visual complexity, rather than facing a spacious room with people milling about chatting, lights, sounds. When talking to people, allow your child to look away from a person’s face when he needs to. Have guests plan to arrive at staggered times, instead of all-at-once. When making your guest list, you could use the rule of thumb, match the number of kids to the child’s age. In our case, in Phase III CVI, his ideal array is no more than six to eight. So that’s how many kids to invite. Don’t worry, six to eight kids are capable of creating plenty of sensory complexity, and eating plenty of cake.

Light. With birthdays, the first thing you think of is cake. Incorporate light with candles (light, especially paired with the flickering movement of a candle, can be pretty motivating for a child with CVI, so keep it safely out of reach). Shiny silver gift wrap will reflect light. Request light up toys as gifts. Don’t forget to turn down the lights for blowing out candles and singing Happy Birthday.

Distance. Reduce visual complexity around areas or objects of importance (birthday cake, that growing stack of presents) and bring your child within five to ten feet when you want him to see them.

Novelty. The complexity of a child’s birthday party is so overwhelming, it is easy to  forget about novelty. If the party venue is unfamiliar, plan a tour a few days prior to the big day. When opening gifts, talk about a toy’s salient features and use comparative language to help your child understand what he is looking at (Roman). You may have to explain that the gift is the toy inside the box, the gift is not simply the box.

Visually guided reach. If you plan to have burning candles on that birthday cake, beware of visually guided reach! (light, movement) Reducing complexity of array or complexity of the object will also help with visually guided reach.

Visual reflexes. By now everybody knows that we do not craft goals or interventions around visual reflexes, right? Right.

What began as a simple, light hearted list of how to consider the CVI ten characteristics and  birthdays, could easily go on and on and on. There is so much to say about children with CVI. But right now it’s time to finish our own birthday party planning. Here are some last thoughts.


Does your child with CVI rely on a schedule? Make a birthday party schedule. Put it on preferred color paper or put it on the backlit iPad, use visuals or stick with good old  reliable text. A schedule can provide a certain amount of structure, and lets him know what to expect next, especially on what will likely be a chaotic day, no matter how well planned and intended. A schedule might look like 1. Guests. 2. Games. 3. Presents. 4. Cake. 5. Goodbye. Throughout the party offer reminders about what is coming up next.

Vision break

Don’t forget to find a quiet space for a vision break. Lots of opportunities to use vision on your birthday, means there is a good chance of visual fatigue. It is Ok to have  a short break from the party and take some deep breaths, which will likely benefit both your CVI kiddo and you.

Lastly, before we think of CVI, our kids with CVI are first and foremost…kids. Whatever you do, be sure to make it a meaningful birthday for your child.

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