Autism and Vision: Hidden Problems

Autism and Vision
Parents of autistic children have a variety of struggles in learning about the diagnosis of their child and how to help. The connection between autism and vision is sometimes missed because of multiple other symptoms that are more readily identified. However, learning about these symptoms can help parents and providers better assistance to children.

First, parents and other caregivers must understand that a vision problem is not limited to having 20/20 visual acuity. Just because the sight of a person falls within normal parameters does not mean they process the information in the same way as their peers. These types of problems are often hidden and not quickly noticed the way a deformed limb or teeth may be. It takes more in-depth treatment to diagnose vision challenges.

Because many autistic children have difficulty maintaining eye contact, many believe that it is just normal and accept that as part of the diagnosis. However, these children may have difficulty with several aspects of vision, including balance, movement and posture. They may have difficulty coordinating these movements because their perception of the world around them is not being processed through the brain in the same way as a non-autistic child.

Autism and vision challenges often go hand in hand. Because the child does not know anything different than their experiences, they often are unaware and therefore unable to communicate the difficulties they have in perceiving space. This can be seen in depth perception challenges. The autistic child may need to explore an object with their hands in order to more completely understand it.

As a natural coping skill, it is also possible that the autistic child rely on a sort of “tunnel vision” to help them focus on important tasks. By zeroing in their attention onto one specific thing, such as a television or computer screen, the child is able to immerse themselves into what they are watching. The down side to this is that they often become oblivious to the world around them. The child who has focused this intensely on something may miss when someone standing next to them speaks.

The challenge for parents and caregivers is to help the child increase the amount of visual space that they can process information from. There are a number of exercises that can be done over a period of time to assist the autistic child.

Playing sports or interacting with other children may be intimidating for the autistic child who realizes that something is wrong but lacks the ability to verbalize it. This can increase their frustration and cause them to further withdraw into their own world if left untreated.

Parents of autistic children need to understand the connections between autism and vision. By doing so, they can become a champion for their child and help them to enjoy the most out of life that they can. The use of visual aids and appropriate therapies, like Vision Therapy, can do a great deal to boost the self-esteem and performance of the autistic child.

Autism and vision often run hand in hand without anyone recognizing the issue. Many children with autism also suffer from vision problems. Autistic children are challenged in their communication efforts, and thus don’t know how to communicate. Additionally, someone who had never seen correctly certainly has nothing to gauge their vision from.

Autism and Vision: A Misdiagnosis
A recent case of an 8-year-old boy diagnosed with autism had a successful outcome only because the grandmother had read an article about autism and vision. This young man was struggling in school, and so the grandmother suggested to her daughter to have a vision check-up for her young son.

Upon examination, the young man was shy and made little to no eye contact, but he reached out with his fingers to explore the environment. He investigated the entire office in this fashion.

Consulting with his teachers it was also discovered that he explored his school and interacted with his peers in the same fashion. He didn’t like to read and had problems staying on task. He was easily distracted and struggled to copy work from the board.

These situations caused undue stress and anxiety in this young patient, and he didn’t appear to be interested in any activities. Upon examination, his eyes appeared healthy and his eye sight was fine.

So what was wrong then? His perception and processing were off. While our vision answers where we are, where things are, what things are and what to do with such things, this young man’s vision didn’t answer those questions.

Autism and vision issues often go hand in hand.
If the perception is off then so is the rest of the picture. While this young man could follow an object with his finger, he couldn’t follow the object with his eyes. He was exploring his world in his own way with his hands similar to that which a blind person would do.

The connection between the eye and the brain was malfunctioning, and this 8-year-old, young man was functioning in the capacity of a 2 to 2½ year old child.

This lack of connection caused a disorganized orientation of his world. In order to organize it, he needed to use his fingers as his eyes. Overwhelmed with too much information at once, this child had learned to tunnel his information into smaller increments that he could understand.

Using performance lenses and some specialized visual training, called vision therapy, this young man was able to get back on track and broaden his horizons. His specialized performance lenses allowed him to easier coordinate his world. Performance lenses are low powered or reduced powered lenses which help to translate the information received from the eye to the brain.

Once this young man put on his new glasses, his voice became louder and he would sit still and read more. With time he became more fluent in his reading, and he was more interested in what was going on around him.

His new lenses and vision therapy gave him more self-confidence, and the world began to make more sense to him. Vision therapy can help with issues children face with autism and vision.

Please note: In-office, Optometric Vision therapy, under the direction of a Behavioral Optometrist using prisms, filters and lenses, as used with our patients, is far more effective than home-based therapy.