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Q & A: About Autism and Vision

What is Autism?

Autism is a neurobiological disorder. People with autism have difficulty processing and responding to information from their senses. They also have difficulties with communication and social interaction. Symptoms of autism can include lack of social interaction, delays in development, and inappropriate response to sensory information.

How can an Behavioral Optometrist or a Developmental Optometrists help my child with Autism?

Dr. Roth and his staff are sensitive to children with autism and those with special needs. He is able to examine even when a child or adult is not able to respond. Vision is a learned process and can be developed, taught or enhanced at any age. Behavioral and Developmental Optometrists have training beyond the basic Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree and have a clear understanding of how the visual system can be developed. Lenses, prisms, and vision therapy enhance a patient’s visual abilities.

What are some of the vision treatment options for a child or young adult with autism?

Behavioral Optometrists treat and address the vision issues common in autism including visual stims that vary with each individual and difficulty in eye contact. Helping people with autism input and process vision more efficiently and more accurately. This then improves their ability to interact with the world around them, socialize, and even communicate.

At times traditional glasses may be prescribed to improve your child’s ability to focus their environment and at times special prism glasses are used and have a big impact on your child’s ability to process. Vision Therapy activities stimulate the central visual system and their ability to process what they can now see better. The overall goal is better visual input coupled with an improved ability to process what they can see.

My child has Autism and has difficulty communicating. How do I know if he is having trouble seeing?

Visual problems are very common in persons diagnosed with autism. Behavioral signs include a lack of eye contact, staring at spinning or moving objects or light, fleeting peripheral glances, side viewing, and difficulty attending visually.

Children with autism have difficulty using their visual information. They may have problems coordinating and integrating what they see in front of them with what they see off to their sides. They may have difficulty maintaining his visual attention. Eye movement disorders (the ability to control the eyes) and crossed eyes are common in children with autism.


Dr. Roth is Board Certified in Vision Development and Therapy has years of experience with individuals on the Autism Spectrum.


Autism Spectrum Disorders describes a large range of mild to moderate to severe disorders. Each requires a unique approach to serve that child’s needs.

Signs Of Autism

Signs of the disorder typically appear in early childhood, and range from an inability to communicate, difficulty in socialization, visual stims, etc. Some individuals have:

  • delayed learning of language;
  • difficulty making eye contact or holding a conversation;
  • difficulty with reasoning and planning;
  • narrow, intense interests;
  • poor motor skills and sensory sensitivities.

In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report that stated that 1 in every 68 children born are affected by the spectrum of disorders.

New Jersey is the autism capital and this number is even greater. This has been a two-fold increase over those same figures (1 in 125 children) in 2004.

Children identified on the autism spectrum have diverse needs including specialized vision care.

Autism affects how children and adults process and respond to sensory information. It is therefore important to evaluate exactly what visual sensory information is being taken in by the individual.

Recent studies indicate that the incidence of near-sightedness, far-sightedness, and/or astigmatism, may be more common in those with autism.

This also appears true for strabismus (cross-eye) and amblyopia (lazy eye). These problems can be treated, corrected, and sometimes even prevented, depending on when they are diagnosed.

Dr. Roth is Board Certified in Vision Development and Therapy has years of experience with individuals on the Autism Spectrum.

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Vision problems are very common in individuals with autism. People with Autism often use visual information inefficiently.

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People with autism have difficulty processing and responding to information from their senses.

Vision Therapy Helps RC’s Attention Issues! 10 years old patient is telling his experience.

Testimonial Video

Autism and Vision Therapy

girl curls brown hairVision Problems and Autism

Vision problems are very common in individuals with autism. Visual symptoms of autism can include lack of eye contact, staring at spinning objects or light, fleeting peripheral glances, side viewing, and difficulty attending visually. Other common “stims’ include hand flapping and toe walking.People with Autism often use visual information inefficiently. They have problems coordinating their central and peripheral vision. An example of this is the inability or difficulty in following an object with their eyes. Rather than looking directly at the object, they scan or look off to the side of the object. Individuals with Autism might also have difficulty maintaining visual attention. Eye movement disorders and crossed eyes are common in the autistic spectrum.

boy sit beside windowPoor Integration of Central and Peripheral Vision

Individuals with Autism can also ignore peripheral vision and remain fixated on a central point of focus for excessive periods of time. Poor integration of central and peripheral vision can lead to difficulties in processing and integrating visual information in individuals with autistic. Motor, cognitive, speech, and perceptual abilities can also be affected when visual processing is interrupted.

Hypersensitive Touch and Vision

Many people with autism are tactualy (touch) or visually defensive. Tactually defensive people are easily over-stimulated by input through touch. They are always moving and wiggling. They avoid contact with specific textures. Visually defensive persons avoid contact with specific visual input and might have hypersensitive vision. They have difficulty with visually “holding still” and frequently rely on a constant scanning of visual information in an attempt to gain meaning.

Vision Exams for People with Autism

Methods for evaluating the vision of people with autism will vary depending on individual levels of emotional and physical development. We may test how the individual responds to specific lenses and how they perform specific activities while wearing those special lenses. For example, observations of the patient’s postural adaptations and compensations will be made as he or she sits, walks, stands, catches and throws a ball, etc. We may use special prisms, called Yoked Prism, which alter spatial awareness and change how the individual sees the world. Some people call these “the magic glasses” because they often bring about a dramatic change for those individuals who respond positively to them.

Treatment of Visual Problems Associated with Autism

The results of testing will help determine if lenses are needed to compensate for nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism (with or without prism). Vision Therapy activities can be used to stimulate general visual arousal, eye movements, and the central visual system. The goals of treatment may be to help the autistic individual organize visual space and gain peripheral stability so that he or she can better attend to and appreciate central vision and gain more efficient eye coordination and visual information processing.Dr. Roth is certified as a Fellow of the College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD) and is experienced in examining and treating individuals with autism, developmental delays, and even those who are non-verbal.

Consider reading the following resources directed to parents:

  • Seeing Through New Eyes by Melvin Kaplan, OD
  • Envisioning a Bright Future: Interventions That Work for Children and Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders by Patty Lemmer, MA
  • Outsmarting Autism, by Patty Lemmer, MA