Educators and Therapists

The “What’s the Complexity?” Framework (created by Matt Tietjen)

The “What’s the Complexity?” Framework, created by Matt Tietjen, enables educational teams to plan for how to manage the visual demands for students with CVI throughout their school days. When there is a consistent balance between environment and task complexity, teams can increase visual access and visual participation for students with CVI, as well as reduce cumulative visual fatigue (often a major trigger for CVI meltdowns).

“Individuals with cortical visual impairment (CVI) deserve a visually accessible school day...this is their right and ensuring this right is one of the primary responsibilities of the educational team.” 2

Individuals with CVI confront visual complexity and the related CVI characteristics during every part of their day. When left unaddressed, this complexity stands between the individual and an accessible, appropriate education. To avoid such an outcome, CVI interventions must be applied rigorously and consistently across an individual’s entire school day. Visual complexity must be evaluated and addressed at every turn. 3

Matthew Tietjen

CTVI, CVI Range Endorsed

“Even in a well supported, non-complex environment, visual fatigue occurs with a challenging task. Using utensils to eat requires the use of central vision.” —CVI mom

The “What’s the Complexity?” Framework evaluates activities a child engages in throughout the day. An activity has two parts: task and environment. The Framework enables professionals to evaluate the complexity of the task and environment separately in order to pinpoint the main source of complexity in a given activity.

Complexity is at the center of the 10 CVI characteristics and plays a big role in limiting the ability of students with CVI to make meaning of the visual world. This framework incorporates the results of a student’s CVI Range assessment into a systematic and practical approach that empowers educational teams to evaluate and address the complexity of the environments, tasks, and materials, and in turn design a CVI-friendly and accessible school day for students with CVI. 

The Framework includes several components, including the Individual Complexity Profile, Task Rating Guides, Recording Forms, and a comprehensive report to be shared with the school team. Below are two components of the Framework: observation tools to use when evaluating the complexity of a task and environment. These two components are shared as examples of the power of the Framework, but should not be used solely on their own. Read more about the Framework in Cortical Visual Impairment: Advanced Principles

Five Components of Environmental Complexity4

Complexity of Array: “amount of visual information in the student’s visual field.”

Complexity of Sensory Input: “amount of competing auditory input.”

Visual Movement: “amount of extraneous movement in the student’s visual field.”

Impact of Lighting: “the degree of distracting sources of light.”

Visual Novelty: “how familiar or unfamiliar an environment is.” 

Achieving Balance 

A balanced activity allows the student to engage in the activity regularly, for an extended period of time, without undue stress... A balanced schedule helps the student maintain a charged ‘visual battery’ throughout the school day.6

Seven Components of Task Complexity5

Complexity of Target: “student’s ability to look at a visual target and identify or recognize the target.”

Complexity of Array: “amount of simultaneous visual information presented by the task itself.”

Complexity of Sensory Inputs: “considers competing sensory demands from the materials themselves, not from the environment.”

Distance of Materials: “how far away the target is… the farther away the target, the more complex the visual array.”

Visual Motor Demands: “ability to use vision to guide fine or gross motor tasks such as reaching, stepping, zipping, etc.”

Visual Latency: “delay in noticing or processing visual information… the pacing of the task might make it challenging.”

Visual Novelty: “student’s ability to look at and interpret novel exemplars of objects or images.”

1,2,3,4Tietjen, Matthew. (2019). The “What’s the Complexity?” Framework. In Roman-Lantzy, Christine. (2019) Cortical Visual Impairment: Advanced Principles (pp. 92-150). Louisville, KY: APH Press.
5,6Tietjen, Matthew. (2019). The “What’s the Complexity?” Framework. In Roman-Lantzy, Christine. (2019) Cortical Visual Impairment: Advanced Principles (pp. 92-150). Louisville, KY: APH Press. All CVI characteristics from Roman-Lantzy, Christine. (2018). Cortical Visual Impairment: An Approach to Assessment and Intervention. 2nd ed., New York, NY: AFB Press.

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