CVI and Communication Needs Research

What really works for students with CVI & communication needs? A doctoral candidate puts her focus towards intervention-based research for individuals with CVI and communication needs.

What really works for students with CVI & communication needs?

An SLP’s Path to a Research Career with a call for research participants – We need you!

My passion for working with students with cortical visual impairment (CVI) and complex communication needs began in my first year as an early intervention speech language pathologist (SLP). I didn’t know it at the time, but I had two students on my caseload with CVI. Planning interventions with these students challenged and excited me. There was so much to consider! 

After two years, I moved to an elementary school setting and was assigned to work with students in the multiple disabilities classroom. Once again, I had students on my caseload with CVI. Again, these were the students who kept me up at night.

How could I help them to communicate more effectively?

What could I do to increase their active participation and meaningful engagement throughout the school day?

How could I help paraprofessionals working one to one with these students?

Fast forward a few years and I am now a doctoral candidate at Penn State University focusing my research efforts on augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) solutions for individuals with communication needs and CVI. My projects over the last year have focused on AAC system design implications based on CVI visual behavioral characteristics (specifically visual complexity), parent perspectives about barriers and supports specific to raising a child with CVI and communication needs, and SLP collaboration with communication partners such as paraprofessionals.


Here are the publications that have resulted from those projects:

  • McCarty, T. V., Sowers, D. J., Wolf, S. J., & Wilkinson, K. M. (2021). A preliminary study of the relation of visual attention to stimulus complexity and functional vision in individuals with Cortical Visual Impairment: Implications for augmentative and alternative communication. Perspectives of the ASHA Special Interest Groups, 1-15.
  • McCarty, T.V. & Light, J. (2021). Supporting peer interactions for students with complex communication needs in inclusive settings; Paraeducator roles. Perspectives of the ASHA Special Interest Groups, 1-16.
  • McCarty, T. V., & Light, J. (2022). “It’s like a guessing game all the time:” Parent insights on barriers, supports, and priorities for children with cortical visual impairment and complex communication needs [Manuscript in preparation]. Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Penn State University.  


My next study has been approved and I am ecstatic to turn my focus towards intervention-based research for individuals with CVI and communication needs. Evidence based intervention for working with students with CVI is desperately needed. I am hopeful that this blog post will draw the attention of a few parents, educators, or service providers. I need you!

  • Do you know a child with CVI who does not communicate beyond the early one-word stage (i.e., less than 20 words through gesture, signs, body movements, and/or aided AAC symbols) and is between the ages of 3-17?  
  • Does this child receive paraprofessional or teaching assistant support during their educational day?
  • Do you wish this child could participate more actively or engage more meaningfully during their school day?

Young girl looking happy with mouth open as if understanding something

If the answers to one or more of these questions are yes, this study might be for you (or your child)! All aspects of this study can be completed virtually using Zoom and involve only a minimal time commitment.

I am looking for paraprofessionals to participate in two teletraining sessions to teach a strategy for offering choice opportunities to children with communication needs and CVI. The strategy taught will be individualized for the child based on their specific communication and visual profile. Short video observation probes will be collected over Zoom. The strategy taught in this study has the potential to make a big impact for students who are often unintentionally only provided with passive opportunities for participation during their school day.

If you know a child or paraprofessional who may be appropriate for this study, please consider filling out a short form at this link so that I can be in contact with you by April 8, 2022.

I would love the opportunity to work with you or your child/student and determine the effectiveness of this intervention.

I am incredibly thankful for my experiences with students with CVI which have led me to this point. I would not be back pursuing a degree specializing in AAC for individuals with CVI if it was not for the students on my caseload over the years who continued to challenge and excite me. These students need opportunities for active and meaningful participation and engagement in their educational programs! This study may help contribute to that!