April is CVI Literacy Awareness Month. Our students with CVI are diverse learners and there is, as of yet, no one approach that works for each child, every time. How I wish there were, what a wonderful world that would be! Instead here are some ideas, recollections, tools, and promising resources.
From the start, from that CVI diagnosis as a newborn, reading was a priority, starting in the NICU. No matter your child’s age or abilities – read to your child. For the longest time I could recite I’ll See You in the Morning by heart, and my son eventually created his own babbled version too, long before he started talking: “I’ll see you in the morning. For now it’s time to sleep. I will stay and watch a while… till you are counting sheep.” “…dee-da-DEEP!” There is all kinds of research to support the connection between reading aloud and early literacy.
CVI early literacy was nothing if not multisensory. This included reading aloud, looking at books, colored foam letters that he matched and fit into their own letter shapes, “literacy” toys, wooden letter puzzles, tactile letters, “pretend” reading, picture word cards (cards are still a favorite, he loves sorting through things with his hands). Basically, activities, books, materials, subjects that were meaningful to him.
Back then we were less iPad savvy, so his first books were actual cardboard books. Still in Phase II CVI, he was not yet ready for pairing words and images. Along with literacy, these first books were about making the leap from 3 dimensional objects to 2D representation. The book format was familiar and good practice for print awareness, how to hold the book, turn pages, look from left to right. The cardboard made for good chewing, as he mouthed objects longer than a neurotypical child.
These days we have the technology to make custom e-books in a matter of minutes for our students with CVI, more meaningful than something randomly found on youtube. There are numerous apps for doing this, or learn how to make an e-book using PowerPoint.
Anytime you are teaching literacy is a good time to talk about salient features. Salient features are important because this is how our students with CVI learn to understand what they are looking at. Students begin to recognize the salient features of familiar things before they go on to recognize the salient features of letters and words. Here is a salient features dictionary if you need help getting started thinking about it. Your child with CVI will also have their own salient features of meaningful objects and things in their life that will not be found in this dictionary.
Another tool for teaching the salient features of words is the Roman word bubbling, or outline, tool, found here. This is a color outline of the word that emphasizes word shape. Please note the word outline is not a stand alone strategy, but part of a larger, whole word literacy approach developed by Christine Roman-Lantzy. The whole word shape is taught and described and recognized by its salient features – it is not simply giving a child an outlined word in the absence of instruction. Especially when it comes to teaching salient features, the magic is in the instruction. You can learn about the steps of this approach in her book, Cortical Visual Impairment, Advanced Principles (2019). Some CVI learners are very successful with this approach. For others it may be useful for targeting unfamiliar words (novelty) or increasingly longer words (complexity of array).
Speaking of fonts, some CVI learners may benefit from approaches to dyslexia, such as the Dyslexie font. The Dyslexie “typeface emphasizes the parts of the letter that are different from each other.”
Another font, called Atkinson Hyperlegible by the Braille Institute, has a similar focus on distinguishing letterforms for increased legibility. Check it out and see if it helps your CVI learner.
For your continuing education in CVI literacy, check out this webinar by CVI carer and retired teacher and reading specialist, Judy Endicott, who shares her grandson’s CVI literacy journey, be sure to watch both parts. The topic of CVI literacy is so urgent that it was developed into its own multi-week course at Perkins, also taught by Judy. Find out more here.
Don’t forget the pictures
Don’t forget that children’s literature is nothing without pictures. Most books for young readers ooze illustrations. Research shows how important these images are for supporting cognition in a study that looked at the impact of reading under three different conditions, audio only; an illustrated storybook with audio voiceover; an animated cartoon: “Most importantly, in the illustrated book condition, researchers saw increased connectivity between — and among — all the networks they were looking at: visual perception, imagery, default mode and language.” I know one young CVI learner, Phase III CVI, who still relies heavily on images in stories in late elementary school, when book illustrations fade and words and text increase exponentially. Those pictures, even supplementing them with Google Images, support him to build that visual picture in his brain, whose own visual library is diminished due to CVI. This means that in addition to modifying text (increased font size, kerning, word and line spacing), the CVI literacy modifications in the IEP include supplemental, accessible, images. So don’t shy away from images. Grab your child’s assessment or CVI Range and modify those books and pictures so literacy is accessible for your child with CVI.
Roman-Lantzy, C. (2019). Cortical Visual Impairment: Advanced Principles. Louisville, KY: APH Press.
Jolley, Mike and Moriuchi Mique (2005). I’ll See You in the Morning. UK: Templar Publishing.