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Autism and Vision

Autism Spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities can bring with them a variety of vision problems; yet many of these children have either never had an eye exam, or their parents have been told that their vision is fine. A number of the behaviors which are associated with these spectrum disorders actually have a visual component, which, when addressed, can make a huge change in the child’s behavior and ability to learn and interact with their world.

Most people don’t realize that our eyes are actually part of the brain. So it stands to reason that if someone has a neurological disorder that impacts the brain, that their vision would be compromised in some way. Being able to see things clearly from a distance of 20 feet (i.e., “20/20”) is just one of over 15 visual skills required to read, learn and function in life.

In fact, 35 areas of the brain are primarily or totally involved with the processing of visual information. At least 305 intra-cortical pathways link the 35 areas; and, 70% of the sensory information that goes to the brain is visual.

While 1 out of 4 normal children struggle with reading and learning because of undiagnosed vision problems, research is showing that a significantly higher percentage of children with autism spectrum disorders have vision problems which, when corrected, can make a huge difference in their lives.

Following is a list of many of the behaviors commonly associated with autism spectrum disorders that have a visual component: watching spinning objects, eyeballing things - getting really close to objects, watching things repetitively, loves looking at shiny objects, and has difficulty in locking on or maintaining eye contact. For others: Disruptive and/or uncooperative behavior, eye contact avoidance, blackboard visual avoidance, poor and uneven handwriting, inability to listen and look simultaneously, over use of peripheral vision, stiff-legged walk, poking at the sides of his eyes, closing or covering one eye, unable to catch or throw a ball, closes eyes in order to hear

By treating the underlying vision problem we find that these children are better able to interact and adapt to their surroundings. Improving the child’s vision causes changes in the neurology and the way the child understands their world.

Children who were previously non-verbal, suddenly begin speaking when they are given special glasses that are designed to help them process visual information. Other children stop “eyeballing” things.

Diagnosis and treatment of vision problems that impact autism spectrum disorders are performed by developmental optometrists. The emphasis of the testing is designed to determine, “how do we get the child to become more connected to world around them?” One of the bigger problem is "Look" (fixate). Visual fixation (looking) is the neuromuscular aiming of the eyes at a specific point in space. For more information about this visual ability please click here

Treatment can often be as simple as a special pair of glasses. For more information, please call our office.

Visual symptoms that can accompany autism spectrum disorders that are often treatable with optometric vision therapy:

  • Eye contact avoidance
  • Closing or covering one eye
  • Unable to catch or throw a ball
  • Closes eyes in order to hear
  • Poor and uneven handwriting
  • Inability to listen and look simultaneously
  • Over use of peripheral vision
  • Stiff-legged walk
  • Poking at the sides of his eyes
  • Disruptive
  • Uncooperative
  • Turns off lights or turn lights on and off (disco style)
  • Watching spinning objects
  • Eyeballing things - getting really close to objects
  • Watching things repetitively
  • Loves looking at shiny objects
  • Has difficulty in locking on or maintaining eye contact

If your child has any of these symptoms, this is a sign that a vision problem may be contributing to your child’s difficulties. A Neuro- Developmental vision evaluation is required to determine the depth of the problem and the best treatment options. 

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