What Cerebral Visual Impairment (CVI) is, what pupils with CVI might have problems with and how to help them, CVI and complex needs.

Cerebral Visual Impairment (CVI) is a form of visual impairment caused by the brain not being able to process information from the eyes passing along the visual pathways in the brain. As the pupil grows older, the visual difficulties may slowly improve as they find strategies to use their vision.  

What pupils with CVI might have problems with

Pupils with CVI can have problems with:

  • recognising faces
  • recognising and reaching for objects
  • clarity of vision, that is sharpness of vision for both near and distance vision
  • seeing movement 
  • visual field loss, also known as peripheral vision loss
  • colour and contrast 
  • crowding and complexity, for example difficulty seeing detail or one item in a busy scene
  • visual fatigue, for example pupils may have periods of good vision and then periods when vision is less good
  • controlling eye movements 
  • moving through the world, for example using stairs, steps and slopes
  • orientation and route finding, for example losing their way even in familiar places

How to help pupils with CVI

Some strategies that may be useful:

  • pupils who have difficulties in recognizing faces use an identifier, for example always wearing the same coloured item, having a meeting point in the playground, or a buddy
  • reducing visual clutter, visually simple and of good contrast
  • enlarging print size and increasing the space between words on a line
  • using a desk slope bring the text closer and keeps it in central visual field
  • using a typoscope (a small window cut into a piece of card) to isolate words and help prevent crowding
  • using a child’s preferred colour to engage in activities (red is often preferred)
  • avoiding visual clutter in the general environment by keeping storage and signage simple, for example using the end peg or the end drawer for the pupil’s storage
  • making sure a pupil is seated appropriately so they can concentrate on seeing, for example at the front of the class
  • practicing key routes and using highlight landmarks
  • highlighting obstacles, steps and stairs
  • keeping objects in the same place to help location, for example coat peg, seating, equipment

CVI and pupils with complex needs

There are a range of characteristics often present in pupils with CVI and complex needs. Being aware of these characteristics can be helpful in setting up invention programmes.   

Colour preference 

Many pupils with CVI have a colour preference, often red or yellow. This can be used in the resources used to encourage visual attention before introducing 2 or 3 colours and patterns.

Need for movement 

Pupils with CVI start by being visually attracted by movement or reflective properties to initiate visual attention. The need for movement may reduce.

Visual latency 

Pupils with CVI often need time to make a visual response and to interpret what they see. The time to respond will reduce as visual targets become familiar. 

Visual field preference 

Pupils with CVI often show a definite visual field preference, for example within the left or right field, or use of peripheral vision.

Difficulty with visual complexity 

Pupils with CVI use their vision where the environment is controlled. For example, simple bold targets with reduced visual clutter mounted on a plain background, reduced background noise.

Light gazing and non-purpose gaze 

Pupils with CVI can be overly attentive to overhead lights to the detriment of purposeful visual attention. Take care in positioning the pupil and encourage them to look at appropriate targets.

Difficulty with visual distance 

Pupils with CVI initially give visual attention to targets nearby. Over time, the pupil may extend the distance of their visual interest.

Difficulty with visual novelty 

Pupils with CVI give visual attention to familiar objects. They may not look at novel objects unless they share familiar attributes, for example colour and movement.

Absence of visually guided reach 

Pupils with CVI find it difficult to integrate looking and reaching. They may look, and look away before reaching. 

Further information

For more information visit:

Contact us
Sensory Support Service
Elmfield House
Greystoke Avenue
Westbury-on-Trym
BS10 6AY

Phone: 0117 903 8442
Text: 07810 506 669
Email: sensorysupportservice@bristol.gov.uk