“You guys sure go to the store a lot!” Last week was all about parent teacher conferences, and both the classroom teacher and resource room teacher made the same comment. It is true that my son enjoys going to stores, especially food shopping. It is also true that we do many other things, like hikes, walks, the beach, riding bikes – in addition to a never ending schedule of medical and therapy appointments. But our outside excursions are not the activities that make their way back to the classroom. My suspicion is that his focus on stores and places has more to do with getting to know a novel community, and the lay of the land, along with the social experience of it all. That both teachers commented made me think of all the things you can do at the store, when your child has cortical visual impairment (CVI).
As an eight year old, Jasper has clear preferences for certain stores. Wherever we are, we like to seek out local places. But bigger chain stores have the great advantage of being familiar (novelty) and these are some of his favorites. Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Starbucks are among them, not so close by anymore, but visually reliable for a child with CVI.
Orientation is hard. He has been at his new school, less than a mile from home, for nearly six months. Though we walk to school each day, he has said, “Mommy, I could find my way to school, but I wouldn’t be able to find my way home,” if he walked on his own. So on our way, we practice that lay of the land piece. Which way do we turn here if we want to go to X? Logos are also reliable and branding executives do their best to keep it simple, think Target. Simple and often colorful is perfect for our kids with CVI. Logos are recognizable and he practices finding the logo amidst the complex streetscape. “Tell mommy when you see it.”
(In Phase III CVI, the characteristic of movement (Roman) is slightly less important these days. Up until the last few years, the automatic doors, opening and closing at the front of the store, moving and reflecting light, were thrilling for him. He would look and watch and was visibly excited, laughing, smiling, and waving. It was hard not to notice his pure joy at watching those doors. The sight of those doors also made for a highly motivating visual target at a distance. Looking back, I cannot remember exactly when those sliding doors lost their luster.)
The store itself is another lesson in orientation. Thinking of his perpetual restroom fixation and, Where are the restrooms? That restroom symbol is pretty meaningful for him. As a child with many sensory aversions (sensory, not allergy) we also graze by the diary section. The word itself, dairy, has been whittled down to the letter “D.” In what part of the store does the D tend to be? How about fruits and vegetables? At Whole Foods, we need to pick up noodles, Where would we find the noodles? Can you help me look for noodles in this aisle?
Whether a store sells food, crafts, home goods, bikes, a store is a perfect place to just look. In the produce section, look at all the different citrus fruit, Which one is the lime? Or looking at purple cauliflower. What is this fruit shaped like? A star. Can you help me find a potato? An avocado? And so on and so forth. Whether people tend to look at us, looking, is unimportant.
With their air of familiarity, home stores are perfect. (Another favorite of his is, unbelievably, Ikea, which could be a blog post of its own.) We have a nearby hardware store that is half dedicated to kitchen items and appliances. Which of the doors on this refrigerator is the freezer? How do you know? Why do you think the freezer is smaller? Cookie cutters are as simple as it gets, pure form. What shape is this cookie cutter? A moose. What about this one? A boot. It is tall like a boot, but much much bigger in real life. A lighthouse. You could stand there all day, looking at cookie cutters. That rainy afternoon, no less than five employees asked us if we needed “help.”
Craft stores especially offer an endless amount of things to look at, sometimes too much. In spite of its overwhelming visual complexity, even for me, he loves the craft store. About three feet inside the entrance we are greeted by a spring Easter display. What is this? Holding up an abstract wooden puzzle, my finger covers the words. A bunny. Trips to the craft store tend to be kept short.
Maybe the fact that he dwells on stores at school simply means that the experience is meaningful. At school, he matches certain stores with certain people. If he is working with the resource teacher, the topic is Whole Foods. At lunch with the school counselor, it is all about the local market where we once bumped into her. In this way, he is matching up his learning.
As with so many daily activities, going to the store can about so much more with your child has CVI.