As many now know, autism is on a spectrum and can look differently in different people. It is a neurobiological disorder that can have a range of conditions which include challenges with social skills, communication, forming relationships, speech, processing, and responding to information from their senses. Those with autism can also possess very unique strengths and differences too. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that 1 in 68 children in the United States have autism; 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls.
Vision is a neurological process that is directly affected by autism, and so vision problems are extremely common with those with ASD. Whenever there is any kind of developmental delay in a child, vision can also be underdeveloped. However, these visual problems are often overlooked because they coincide with other autistic behaviors such as:
· Poor eye contact
· Light sensitivity
· Looking through or beyond objects
· Poor understanding of one’s physical place within an area
· Staring at light or spinning objects
· Fleeting peripheral glances
· Side viewing
· Poor motor skills (gross and fine)
· Poor eye- hand and eye-body coordination
· Poor impulse control
· Poor depth perception
According to the College of Optometrists in Vision Development, those with ASD will often have problems coordinating their central and side vision. Instead of looking at an object directly when asked to follow it, they look off to the side at the object. And once they do fixate on an object, they tend to then ignore their peripheral vision. COVD also explains how those with autism are oftentimes visually defensive, meaning they avoid contact with specific visual input and can have hypersensitive vision. This difficulty in integrating the two visual systems makes it more challenging to process visual information. Any deficit or disruption in the visual system consequently affects other necessary abilities such as motor, cognitive, speech and perceptual skills.
A vision therapy program would be designed based on the individual’s needs in relation to ASD. The program’s objective would not just be the integration of the central and peripheral systems, but would work to advance the development in several areas including:
· Sensory issues
· Initiating and sustaining eye contact
· Eye teaming
· Gross and fine motor skills
· Spatial awareness
· Visual processing
· Reduction of repetitive behaviors in response to specific visual input
· And more!
If you feel like your child with ASD could benefit from a program of vision therapy, do not hesitate to call and set up a comprehensive vision evaluation! The exam may consist of your child wearing certain lenses and performing gross motor activities while we observe their visual responses to both moving and fixated stimuli of various kinds. Your child does not have to be verbal to participate in a vision evaluation!
-Emily Thompson, Vision Therapist