Vision 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.
Poor 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