My Child Has a Traumatic Brain Injury—Does He Qualify for Vision Services?

Dear parents,

I have heard from many concerned parents of children who have had traumatic brain injuries who are confused as to why the school is or is not recommending an evaluation for "vision services." I thought it may be helpful to discuss the concept of brain-related visual impairments and the importance of evaluating children with traumatic brain injuries who have possible vision-related symptoms for "vision services"—instruction in the Expanded Core Curriculum intended to be taught by a teacher of students with visual impairments and an orientation and mobility (travel training) instructor.

What Is Cortical/Cerebral Visual Impairment?

In children with brain injuries, there is a possibility that, although the eyes themselves are perfectly healthy, the brain and eyes have difficulty sending and receiving messages. This is termed a cortical, cerebral, neurological, or brain-based visual impairment, often abbreviated as a CVI.

Who Is Eligible for Vision-Related Services?

According to the Office of Special Education Programs, the federal law the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act concludes that children whose education is adversely affected by a disability qualify for special education services.

Therefore, if you, your child, or a member of your child’s educational team suspects your child is struggling to see or interpret objects, faces, or words, it is important to have a medical professional examine your child for a cerebral/cortical visual impairment (CVI), and it is important for a teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI) to assess if his education is negatively affected due to a CVI.

Please note the TVI can evaluate your child for eligibility of services before your child has an official diagnosis of a CVI; in fact, if the school requires documentation of a CVI, the Office of Special Education Program states the diagnosis must be obtained at no cost to the parents.

What Does the Evaluation for Eligibility of Services Look Like?

A letter from the Office of Special Education Programs states a qualified individual must conduct an evaluation for eligibility of services for students whose vision may adversely affect his/her education and that determination of eligibility must be based on more than one assessment. It must include a functional vision assessment, which determines how one uses his/her vision, and at least one additional assessment examining how the child will best read and write known as a learning media assessment. The determination of eligibility must also be based upon input from parents, teachers, and special education experts (in this case a teacher of students with visual impairments).

What Services Can We Expect Now That My Child Is Eligible?

Your child should receive services and/or accommodations that are individualized and assessment-based.

Your child’s present level of performance will be documented, and your child’s educational team (including first and foremost the parents) will create goals for the child that serve to help him access the curriculum and succeed at school. The service needs will be documented as an individualized education plan; if only accommodations are needed, these will be listed as a 504 plan.

Ideally, all vision-related services will be provided by the teacher of students with visual impairments and the orientation and mobility specialist. If, however, your area is affected by the national shortage of trained professionals, learn your options.

Is My Child on Track for a Special Education Diploma?

Please note that receiving special education services does not affect your child’s diploma track. The goal of special education services is to help your child reach his full potential, regardless of his graduating with a traditional diploma or a special education diploma.

Additional Resources About Cortical Visual Impairment

Who Receives Intervention for CVI?

Cortical Visual Impairment, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Neurological Vision Loss

Statement on Cortical Visual Impairment