What Is CVI?

Cortical Visual Impairment

Cortical visual impairment (CVI) is a brain-based visual impairment. It’s a disability of access. The eyes can see, but the brain can’t interpret the visual world. 

CVI has become the leading cause of visual impairment in children in developed countries.1,2,3 This has occurred because of medical advances that have led to better visual outcomes in retinopathy of prematurity, congenital glaucoma, and congenital cataract; and at the same time, improved survival of children with central nervous system diseases. The number of children with CVI is increasing, elevating it to a public health concern of high significance. Approximately 30-40% of children with visual impairments have CVI. The National Institutes of Health website cites a CVI prevalence of 10.5% of all children with developmental disabilities.4

“A congenital or acquired brain-based visual impairment with onset in childhood, unexplained by an ocular disorder, and associated with unique visual and behavioral characteristics.”

American Conference on Pediatric Cortical Visual Impairment


A child has CVI when:

1 Her visual loss cannot be fully explained by an eye exam.

2 She has a history of a neurological issue—even if brain-imaging studies appear normal.

3 She demonstrates a set of unique visual and behavioral characteristics identified in medical and educational research. 5

Ocular disease and ocular motor disorders can co-exist in a child with CVI, but these issues will not fully explain the child’s visual loss. Pediatric CVI occurs before puberty, and may be the result of a brain injury in the womb or trauma damaging the visual processing center in the brain.

The unique visual and behavioral characteristics seen in children with CVI are described in the 10 characteristics of the CVI Range©.6

Photo of a child with a CVI diagnosis

A child must be six months old to receive an official CVI diagnosis.

Photo of a toddler with glasses

Expectation of improvement

Because CVI involves the brain and not the eye, we can harness the brain’s ability to change—known as neuroplasticity—in order to improve a child’s functional vision. By systematically building connections in the brain with appropriate intentional interventions, a child with CVI can see more.

Professionals and parents who care for children with CVI frequently share feelings of frustration in confronting the questions of:

“What does this child see?”

“How does this child see?”

“How can I improve this child’s ability to see?”

What can you do?

Join us. The Pediatric Cortical Visual Impairment Society is a community of doctors, educators, therapists, parents, and advocates who are working together to answer these questions. Through interdisciplinary education and research, and ongoing advocacy for awareness and resources, we hope to improve the quality of life for all children with CVI.

Join Us Today!

Get the Basics

1 Nielsen, L.S. et al. (2007). Visual dysfunctions and ocular disorders in children with developmental delay. I. prevalence, diagnoses and aetiology of visual impairment. Acta Ophthalmol Scand, 85: 149-56.
2 Hatton, D.D. et al. (2007). Babies Count: the national registry for children with visual impairments, birth to 3 years. JAAPOS, 11: 351-5.
3 Matsuba, C.A., Jan, J.E.. (2006). Long-term outcome of children with cortical visual impairment. Dev Med Child Neurol, 48: 508-12.
4 Swaminathan, M. (2011). Cortical visual impairment in children — A new challenge for the future? Oman Journal of Ophthalmology, 4(1), 1–2. http://doi.org/10.4103/0974-620X.77654
5 Roman, C., Baker-Nobles, L., Dutton, G.N., et al. (2010). Statement on Cortical Visual Impairment. JVIB, 104:69-72.
6 Roman-Lantzy, C. (2018). Cortical Visual Impairment: An Approach to Assessment and Intervention. 2nd ed., New York, NY: AFB Press.


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