What Is CVI?

The 10 Characteristics of CVI1

Christine Roman-Lantzy, PhD, defines 10 characteristics of visual behavior that are quantifiable using the CVI Range©, which are outlined in her textbook Cortical Visual Impairment: An Approach to Assessment and Intervention (2007, 2018). The characteristics are visual processing functions that occur in cortices of the temporal, parietal, and probably the frontal lobe of the brain. Specifically designed interventions based on a child’s CVI Range score should be put into place to allow a child with CVI to improve his or her functional vision and visual engagement with the environment. With early and appropriate interventions, the characteristics will improve, though characteristics will never fully resolve.

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

Color Preference

The child may have a strong attraction to visual targets of a particular color. Even when there is not a single, preferred color, the use of vibrant or highly saturated color alerts and maintains visual attention to a target.

Visual Latency

The child’s visual responses may be slow or frequently delayed. During the time before a response is exhibited, the child with CVI may act as though no visual target is present. However, if sufficient wait time is permitted, the child may eventually turn in the direction of the target and localize (turn toward) or fixate (maintain eye-to-object contact) on the object.

Need For Movement

The child may be attracted to objects that have properties of movement over those that remain stationary, including objects with shiny, reflective surfaces that create the illusion of movement.

Visual Field Preferences

The child may ignore information presented in certain areas of their visual field, or they may turn their heads to view objects from a particular portion of their field of view. According to Jan and Groenveld (1993), visual field preferences are present in almost all children who have CVI.

Difficulties With Visual Complexity

Visual complexity encompasses four interrelated aspects.

Complexity of patterns on the surface of objects

Children with CVI in general appear to have the most consistent visual responses to objects with simple patterns or color on their surfaces.

Complexity of sensory environment

Visual attention can occur only when there are no distractions from other sensory stimuli. Many children with CVI may be unable to establish or maintain visual attention when there is “competition” from other sensory inputs.

Complexity of visual array

Most children with CVI have ocular abilities that allow the reception of visual information. Often, however, visual information may be “seen” but cannot be sorted, interpreted, or understood. Even a familiar object presented alongside a complex array of other objects may not be recognizable to a child with CVI.

Complexity of visual elements of human faces

Children with CVI often demonstrate unusual regard of faces. Eye-to-eye contact is generally absent. As the level of functional vision increases, the child with CVI may begin to discriminate faces in a slow and predictable way.

Need for Light

The child may exhibit unusual attraction to or need for light, and may spend prolonged periods of time gazing at primary sources of light, whether natural light or artificial light.

Atypical Visual Reflex Responses

Many children with CVI tend to have atypical responses with regard to two innate reflexes that serve to protect the eyes from potential harm: the visual blink reflex and the visual threat response.

Absence of Visually Guided Reach  

Many children with CVI are unable to look and reach simultaneously (Jan and Groenveld, 1993, and Milner and Goodale, 1993). Some students with CVI tend to localize or fixate on a target, turn away, and then reach in the direction of the target.

Difficulty With Distance Viewing

Some children with CVI who have difficulty with distance viewing behave as though they were highly nearsighted. The child may position his or her face within inches of a visual target and have great difficulty recognizing even familiar or large targets when they are presented beyond the immediate vicinity.

Difficulty With Visual Novelty

Children with CVI seem to have an “antinovelty” or counterintuitive response to novel inputs. They seem to prefer to visually regard targets that they have viewed over and over and, conversely, appear to ignore objects or other targets that are new.

CVI & Learning

Get the Basics

1 Roman-Lantzy, C. (2018). Cortical Visual Impairment: An Approach to Assessment and Intervention. 2nd ed., New York, NY: AFB Press.


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