“Mommy, if you can’t find me, look for my orange shirt!” When we go running.
“I knew it was you because of your blue bag..” At the grocery store.
It is no coincidence that most of our things are brightly colored: shirts, jackets, bags, hat, bike…the car. Wherever we go we talk about how to find familiar people and how wearing a bright solid color sometimes helps my son who has cortical visual impairment (CVI), recognize or at least find me, his mom.
One day at after school pick up, “Mommy, you knew it was me because of my orange jacket.” My heart wrenched a little. No, that isn’t how I know you at all. Your bright orange jacket doesn’t even begin to describe it.
The thing is, our children with CVI not only do not recognize us, they do not understand how we recognize them. Not recognizing faces, too much noise, too much “visual stuff,” his CVI, all of this is his normal. He assumes his strategies for “recognizing” me are the same as how I recognize him. What he does not understand is how people recognize one other. The way that you know someone by a turn of the head, the way that they walk down the street. Or the way he turns his head sharp to the left to look at me in his right visual field, making sure I am his mom.
I’d know you anywhere. But it has nothing to do with your orange jacket.
When it comes to children with CVI, so often we talk about their use of compensatory skills to recognize familiar people. Recognizing a hairstyle, or glasses, or the presence of a beard. These transient clues are subject to change at any time, they are unreliable. For kids with CVI, our most reliable marker or salient feature is often the sound of our voice.
How do you begin to describe or teach a child with CVI, the ways we recognize one other? How do you make the concept of recognition accessible, when he cannot participate in it? Especially to your own child? I’d know you anywhere. You recognize the head turn to the left, his skipping down the street, the way he runs with less…coordination on his left side, the body movements that come with anxiety or excitement or overload or joy. The curve of his nose. How his hair falls alongside his face. By the small crook in his left ear that has been there since he was born. “Oh don’t worry, that will go away…” the nurse reassured me, as if a crook in an ear is your greatest worry when your newborn is in the NICU. The brain injury turned out to be permanent. So was the crook in his ear.
All of this comes to mind perfectly with the book, “I’d Know You Anywhere, My Love,” by Nancy Tillman:
“So if you decide to be different one day, no worries… I’d know you anyway.”
“I’d know it was you by the gleam in your eyes.”
“I’d know by the flap of your snowy owl wings.”
“I’d know by your nose.”
“I know you by heart.”
I’d know you anywhere.