Educators and Therapists

Salient Features and Comparative Thought 

Published with permission from author, Dr. Christine Roman-Lantzy.

Salient visual features are the defining elements that distinguish one target from another. They are key pieces of distinct information that facilitate the recognition of an image, object, environment, or person.1 

Instruction in salient features begins with familiar objects. Essentially, the CVI educator provides two to three visual elements of the target or object that are central to identifying it. The descriptors selected should include key visual features that are always or nearly always true of the object. For example, the salient features of a cat may be triangle-shaped ears and whiskers. An elephant may be described as an animal that has a large body, big floppy ears, and a trunk. Salient visual features do not include the function, sound, or feel of a target object or event. “Says meow” is not a salient visual feature of a cat. Salient features are initially used to describe the familiar three-dimensional objects present in Phase I and Phase II, but they can also be used into Phase III with novel materials, objects, symbols, and environments. Salient visual features for individuals with CVI are the keys that unlock the rules for visual identification. 2

Below are examples of targets with salient visual features highlighted in the preferred visual color. The use of color supports the individual with CVI in attending to detail. The more individuals with CVI make sense of detail, the more they are able to build neural pathways in the ventral stream of the brain's visual system. The more connectivity in the ventral stream, the more they are able to use central vision, which leads to learning how to read visual print and, in general, increase access to visual world. (Note: Both Google Slides and You Doodle were used to create these images.)


four legs


long door in front

row of many windows on each side

CVI Collaborative: Salient Features Online Dictionary

“Dr. Roman-Lantzy has developed an approach for teaching children with CVI to recognize what they see based on the salient features of the item (Roman-Lantzy, 2018). A salient features dictionary is part of Dr. Roman-Lantzy's approach and can serve as a valuable instruction tool for many students with CVI.

There is no one 'right' way to create a salient features dictionary, and there is no one 'right' set of salient features for any particular item. Instead, instruction in salient features should be individualized for each child, based on his or her unique set of needs, strengths, and interests. This online salient features dictionary is simply one example of this idea and is intended as a supportive reference. This dictionary is a product of The CVI Collaborative, an open, collaborative group of parents and professionals who have learned both directly and indirectly from Dr. Roman-Lantzy.” 3

Salient Features Online Collaborative (Concept created by Matt Tietjen)

Below are examples of the language to use when teaching salient features of words. Refer to An Approach to Literacy for the progression of interventions to support literacy for students with CVI and how the example words below are introduced and eventually used in a story. 

go: Go is a short word spelled g-o. The word go begins with the letter g. The letter says "guh." The letter g is a hanging down letter with a circle at the top, a line that hangs down with a curve at the bottom. The word go ends with the letter o. The letter sounds like it's name "ooo." The letter o is a short letter shaped like a circle.4

baseball: Baseball is a long word spelled b-a-s-e-b-a-l-l. The word baseball says begins with the letter b. B says "buh." The letter b is a tall letter with a line that goes straight down and a circle at the bottom front. The word baseball ends with the letter l. L sounds like "luh." The letter is a tall letter that's a straight line going down.5

Comparative thought is the process of considering the similarities and differences between two or more objects, images, environments, people, or experiences.6

Comparative thought is the cognitive expression of visual discrimination, in which two or more targets or classes are evaluated in terms of a shared trait or a set of shared traits, helping the individual distinguish one feature of an object or image from another. Comparative language is the use of specific language that helps indicate or teach the similarities and differences in two or more targets. Seeing and comparing similarities and differences in the environment is one of the ways that children with typical vision learn about and organize their understanding of the world around them.7

From Dr. Roman-Lantzy (2018)8

Dr. Roman-Lantzy describes novelty, salient features, and comparative thought in the two videos below. Check out her YouTube channel, Roman on CVI, to learn more about the CVI characteristics, instructional methodologies, and environmental adaptions.

Salient features and comparative thought instruction will enable children with CVI to build visual schemes and visual memory. Children with CVI do not have an incidental way to gain visual information; they experience a form of visual deprivation. Their ability to compare sets of information is profoundly hindered by the inability to build an adequate “data bank” of visual information. How can comparative thought develop if there is so little to compare? How can cognition be judged in an individual who has been unable to access incidental and direct forms of visual learning? 9

CVI Advanced Principles

What's the Complexity?

1Roman-Lantzy, C. (2018) Cortical Visual Impairment: An Approach to Assessment and Intervention. 2nd ed. p. 204. New York, NY: AFB Press.
2Roman-Lantzy, C. (2019) Cortical Visual Impairment: Advanced Principles. p. 27. Louisville, KY: APH Press.
3Tietjen, Matt, et. al. Salient Features Collaborative. Retrieved from
4,5Roman-Lantzy, C. (2019) Cortical Visual Impairment: Advanced Principles. p. 55. Louisville, KY: APH Press.
6Roman-Lantzy, C. (2018) Cortical Visual Impairment: An Approach to Assessment and Intervention. 2nd ed. p. 204. New York, NY: AFB Press.
7Roman-Lantzy, C. (2019) Cortical Visual Impairment: Advanced Principles. p. 29. Louisville, KY: APH Press.
8Roman-Lantzy, C. (2018) Cortical Visual Impairment: An Approach to Assessment and Intervention. 2nd ed. pp. 205-206. New York, NY: AFB Press.
9Roman-Lantzy, C. (2019) Cortical Visual Impairment: Advanced Principles. p. 29-30. Louisville, KY: APH Press.

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