Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI) is the leading cause of visual impairment in children in the United States, which naturally makes it a high priority subject for educators of current and future practitioners.
“It’s huge and growing. CVI is a national health crisis that many have not heard of yet. Rather than being caused by an ocular problem in the eye, it’s in the brain. The eyes are often able to see, but the brain is not interpreting what the eyes are seeing,” says Stacy Kelly, associate professor in the Department of Special and Early Education’s acclaimed Visual Disabilities Program.
“Here at NIU, we have always included this topic in our curriculum,” Kelly adds, “and as more children are being born with this, and are on so many of our graduates’ caseloads, we want to embrace this topic in a very realistic manner. Everyone needs this information, and it’s evolving.”
So, who better to shed more light on current methods in CVI than Christine Roman-Lantzy, director of the Pediatric View Program at the Western Pennsylvania Hospital in Pittsburgh and the internationally recognized expert of record?
Roman-Lantzy, who has worked with hundreds of children with CVI over her decades of practice, is the developer of a set of unique assessment tools and systematic, targeted protocols that have helped children improve their vision.
And she brought that her expertise, as well as training in her CVI range scoring guide, to a two-day, standing-room-only workshop held March 21 and 22 in Gabel Hall.
“We were just ecstatic to have the opportunity to learn the scoring framework from the person who wrote the framework, and we wanted to go as deep as possible,” Kelly says. “On the second day, we experienced practice assessments with Dr. Roman-Lantzy.”
Nearly 60 people, including current students in the combined undergraduate/graduate course SEVI 441 and SEVI 541: Instructional Systems of Utilization for Low Vision, as well as alums and others working in the field were able to attend.
Funding came from the Visual Disabilities Program’s federal grant that provides its graduate students with generous financial support, including all tuition and fees, health insurance and a monthly living stipend.
“Our federal grants from the U.S. Department of Education of Special Education Programs enable us to recruit not only very high caliber candidates to NIU,” Kelly says, “but, once they’re here, we provide them with exceptional, above-and-beyond opportunities to learn about the most pressing issues in the field.”
Kelly and her NIU colleagues also collaborated with the Perkins School for the Blind and the School Association for Special Education in DuPage County to offer the training.
“Our school partners are really, really seeking this information on CVI. We’re still learning about CVI, and we’re always learning about the brain,” she says.
“What was so inspiring about this workshop was that we can actually teach to see those who cannot see, using a progressive instructional model that works with the brain to teach the brain how to see. That’s what makes this so critical,” she adds. “It’s the most common cause of blindness among children in this country, but there’s something you can do about it.”
Early diagnosis of CVI is challenging because the eyes usually appear normal, Kelly says.
Later, when children (and even adults) are diagnosed or are in the process of being diagnosed, teachers of students with visual impairments (TVIs) are critical in working with the patients and their families.
Teams that include occupational therapists, physical therapist and speech-language pathologists work together with TVIs, who contribute the primary knowledge about CVI on these school-based teams, she says.
“TVIs are really at the center of these educational teams, or positioning themselves in a collaborative manner with the team serving the individual who’s visually impaired. They make a big difference,” she says. “They also play a very collaborative role in teaming with the families and bringing the necessary understanding to the home.”
Kelly saw steep levels of satisfaction and gratitude among the attendants.
“People took is really seriously, and boy, did they ask great questions. I was so proud of them and their engagement,” she says.
Meanwhile, she believes that the diversity of “a lot of professional experience with our school partners and people who are starting to learn about the field” offers a huge benefits to her students.
Some of the workshop students from outside NIU were response team members from other disciplines, she says, and some were even school psychologists.
“CVI impacts everyone involved,” she says. “That was great for my NIU students to see people they’ll be working with in the future, and to understand where someone from, say, speech and language pathology, is coming from in working with these children.”
Funding for this workshop was provided by grants from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) #H325K160016 and #H325K180006.