Health Alert: Cortical visual impairment

NATIONAL - When a child has cortical visual impairment, they have such trouble using their vision, they'll miss or ignore virtually everything around them. But, these seemingly blind children can learn to see.

Six-year-old Emma never looked at the world the way most children do. Her mother realized something was wrong when she was about six-months-old.

Emma's mother, Amy Weaver, says, "She looked blind to me. She wasn't looking at anything. She would stare at lights. She would really hold that stare, but never make eye contact with me."

Doctor after doctor offered little hope and no diagnosis. Eventually Doctor Christine Roman Lantzy was able to put a name on it - cortical visual impairment.

Dr. Lantzy says, "Cortical visual impairment is damage to the visual processing centers and the visual pathways in the brain, the areas that regulate vision in the brain."

Having CVI means Emma's eyes work, but her brain can't sort out what she sees. Dr. Lantzy explains, "So they see the world as more or less a gigantic hidden pictures image in which there's all kinds of jumbled information."

The treatment for CVI is not medical, it's educational. Dr. Lantzy says, "Because the only way the child can actually improve their vision is through the eyes. So the more they look, the more they can look."

To motivate them to look, teachers use exercises with toys that emphasize simplicity, light, color, and movement. "And the more they look," Dr. Lantzy says, "the more wiring neuronal firing, the more development in the brain for vision."

Most children can improve to normal or near normal vision. Amy Weaver says, "We've come a long way. I mean she used to just sit and stare and now she interacts. We're not 100% there. She has other issues, but you know, she's doing well."

Now Emma "sees" more effectively. Doctor Lantzy says CVI is greatly misunderstood. Early diagnosis and treatment are key to making the best improvement. She's written a new book called "Cortical Visual Impairment: An Approach to Assessment and Intervention" to help parents and professionals.

Posted by Chantelle Janelle