What assessments are currently used to investigate and diagnose cerebral visual impairment (CVI) in children? A systematic review

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Cerebral visual impairment (CVI) is the leading cause of childhood visual impairment in the developed world. Despite this, there are no agreed clinical guidelines for the investigation and diagnosis of the condition. Before development of such guidelines can commence, it is important to recognise which approaches are currently employed. This systematic review evaluated the literature to identify which methods of assessment are currently used to investigate and diagnose childhood CVI.

Medline, Embase, CINAHL, Scopus and the Cochrane Library databases were systematically searched in January 2020 using defined search terms. Articles were included if they: (i) were research papers, conference abstracts or research protocols published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, or relevant textbooks; (ii) included a clinical investigation of CVI in children; (iii) provided an explanation or criteria to diagnose CVI and (iv) were specifically investigating cerebral/cortical visual impairment. Methods used to a) assess and b) diagnose CVI were extracted from included articles. ‘Assessment scores’ were assigned for each method employed by researchers to investigate and diagnose CVI to quantify and compare approaches between articles. A quality grading was also applied to each article.

Of 6454 identified articles, 45 met the inclusion criteria. From these, 10 categories of assessment utilised within included articles were identified: (1) Medical history, (2) Vision assessment/ophthalmologic examination, (3) Neuroimaging, (4) Visual behaviour and direct observation, (5) Structured history-taking, (6) Visual perception tests, (7) Ocular movement and posture assessment, (8) Intelligence/IQ assessment, (9) Clinical electrophysiology and (10) Neurodevelopmental tests. In terms of diagnostic criteria, the most commonly reported approach was one of exclusion, i.e., CVI was diagnosed when visual dysfunction could not be attributed to abnormalities detected in the anterior visual pathway.

There is a lack of common practice in the approaches used by clinicians to investigate and diagnose CVI in children. At present, a ‘diagnosis of exclusion’ remains the most common means to diagnose CVI. Development of clinical guidelines for assessment and diagnosis are necessary to ensure consistency in the diagnosis of CVI and the timely implementation of support to alleviate the impact of CVI on the child’s daily living.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalOphthalmic and Physiological Optics
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 10 Nov 2020

Bibliographical note

This work was supported by Action Medical Research (grant reference GN2429) and the School of Biomedical Sciences, Ulster University.


  • cerebral visual impairment
  • childhood visual impairment
  • children
  • cortical visual impairment
  • diagnosis
  • investigation


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