Cerebral Palsy and Vision: What’s the Link?

cerebral palsy and vision

Wondering what the link between cerebral palsy and vision impairments are?

A vision impairment will affect how your child processes and interacts with the world around them.

This article will go over everything you need to know about cerebral palsy and vision.

Let’s start!

Cerebral Palsy and Vision

First and foremost, we want to clarify that just because your child has cerebral palsy does not mean they will have a vision impairment.

Visual impairments are an associative condition of cerebral palsy, meaning that the two are not directly linked.

However, both are caused by damage to the brain and they do commonly co-occur.

Mild vision impairments in children with cerebral palsy are extremely prevalent; however, only about 10% of children with cerebral palsy will have a severe vision impairment.

Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI)

There are two main types of vision impairments. One has to do with your eyes not functioning, while the other relates to how your brain fails to process visual stimuli.

The latter is what often occurs in children with cerebral palsy. It’s called Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI).

This isn’t the type of vision impairment that can be fixed with glasses.

Generally, the eyes themselves are fine. It’s just that the brain can’t make sense of what it sees, so the way children with CVI react to visual stimuli is off.

Main Causes of CVI

The most common causes of cortical visual impairment are:

  • hypoxia (lack of oxygen to the brain)
  • hydrocephalus (increased fluid & pressure in the brain)
  • trauma to the head
  • ischemia (reduced blood flow in the brain)
  • infections of the central nervous system
  • abnormal brain development

Characteristics of Children with CVI

child with cerebral palsy and vision impairment

Without a proper eye exam, visual impairments in young children can be tricky to spot.

Most children don’t even realize that something is wrong with their eyesight because that’s how their eyesight has always been.

Therefore, vision impairments in children can persist for a very long time before they are diagnosed.

If you suspect that your child has a cortical vision impairment, keep an eye out for these signs:

  • Attraction to vibrant colors, shiny textures, and light
  • Blank stares
  • Delayed reactions
  • Overwhelmed by complexity or clutter
  • Difficulty recognizing faces
  • Attracted to moving objects
  • Better peripheral (side) vision than central (front) vision
  • Only pays attention to things that are close to them
  • A tendency to focus on familiar objects over things they’ve never seen before
  • Uncoordinated vision and touch (when your child looks at an object, turns their head the opposite way, and then proceeds to reaches for the object)
  • Amblyopia (lazy eye)
  • Strabismus (crossed or misaligned pupils)
  • Nystagmus (repetitive, uncontrollable eye movements)

Children with CVI may appear slow or zoned out, but it usually has nothing to do with their intelligence.

People can have CVIs and still be very high functioning.

Treatments for Children with Cerebral Palsy and Vision Problems

cerebral palsy and cortical visual impairment

There is no universal treatment for CVI. It is a spectrum condition and every child will have a different experience.

Just like cerebral palsy, CVIs are nonprogressive, meaning that they will not get worse over time.

Unfortunately, there is no way to reverse brain damage. But by utilizing neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to rewire itself), your child’s cortical vision impairment can improve.

Neuroplasticity is best activated through consistent repetition and novel exposure.

Novel exposure will stimulate the activation of new neural pathways, and repetition will strengthen those pathways.

Promoting Visual Processing at Home

We want to emphasize that simplicity is key.

You want to develop your child’s visual processing skills, not overwhelm them.

Start off by getting rid of clutter and keeping objects in close proximity to your child.

Highlighting a few items at a time will help your child focus.

Keeping the items close to your child still promote sensory exploration.

You want your child to understand the connections between their senses. Make sure that they look at what they touch, hear, smell, and taste.

Expose your child to the same objects over and over again. The more familiar they become with them, the more willing they will be to interact with them.

Gradually, you’ll introduce your child to more objects. When doing so, make sure that you have your child’s attention, verbally introduce the object, and have your child acknowledge it through touch.

Improving your child’s visual impairment won’t happen overnight, but with enough repetition, it is possible.

Now that you know what the signs of cortical visual impairment are, don’t hesitate to get your child a professional evaluation by a pediatric ophthalmologist. Good luck!