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Autism & Vision
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Visual Problems and Autism

Autistic individuals have difficulty processing and responding to information from their senses, as well as difficulties with communication and social interaction. Visual problems are also very common.

Often, the signs of these vision problems can be masked by the behaviors that autistic individuals use to cope with the sensory overload of the world around them. The behaviors that are attributable to both autism and vision problems can include lack of eye contact, staring at spinning objects or light, fleeting peripheral glances, side viewing, and difficulty attending visually. 

Autistic people may also have problems coordinating their central and peripheral vision. For example, when asked to follow an object with their eyes, they usually do not look directly at the object. Instead, they will scan or look off to the side of the object. Eye movement disorders and crossed eyes are common.

Many autistic people are visually defensive. 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.

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Vision Exams for Autistic Patients

Methods for evaluating the vision of autistic people will vary depending on individual levels of emotional and physical development. Testing is often done while the patient is asked to perform specific activities while wearing special lenses. For example, observations of the patient's postural adaptations and compensations will be made as they sit, walk, stand, catch and throw a ball, etc. Such tests help to determine how the autistic person is seeing and how they can be helped.

Treatment to Improve Quality of Life

After a comprehensive exam has identified whether vision problems are present, treatment can start. The goals of treatment may be to help the autistic patient to:

  • organize visual space
  • gain peripheral stability
  • attend to and appreciate central vision
  • gain more efficient eye coordination
  • improve visual information processing.

Achieving these goals can help the autistic person to feel less overwhelmed by visual stimuli and to interact with the world more comfortably.

Depending on the results of testing, lenses to compensate for nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism may be prescribed. Vision therapy activities can be used to stimulate general visual arousal, eye movements, and the central visual system.  Many COVD doctors are experienced in examining and treating autistic people as well as other developmentally delayed or non-verbal individuals.