What is the Link between Autism and Vision?

Vision issues linked to autism are often overlooked or undiagnosed. The National Autistic Society reports that autism affects half a million families in the UK. Vision is our dominant sense for learning, and vision issues can present as developmental problems, as well as contribute to them. Until recently, physical, occupational and speech therapy have been the first course of autistic treatment. However, visual problems, untreated, are actually the cause of many developmental symptoms. Early pediatric optometric intervention, even before the age of three years, is strongly recommended.

Low level vision is impaired in ASD and testing can diagnose problems as well as suggest custom therapies. Proper diagnosis and treatment may include use of special lenses called prisms, to be used part time or all the time. Yoked prisms are eyeglasses which bend light up or down, left or right, and with a course of therapy, help correct and retrain the ASD’s perceptions so that they can take in textural differences, screen and acknowledge stimuli and judge depth perception.

What autistic behaviours can be caused by visual problems?

• Poor eye contact.
• Looking through or beyond objects.
• Sensitivity to light.
• Lack of reciprocal play or shared attention.
• Focus on only part of an object.
• Extreme fear of heights, or inappropriate lack of fear of heights.
• “Stimming,” making repetitive motions and sounds.

To test infants and children under the age of three, as well as older non-verbal children, pediatric optometry is pioneering new tests which do not rely on standard charts and questions. They may use a face dot or other non-verbal test to check an infant’s looking patterns. Also, in order to help young patients co-operate with testing, they offer “pre-teaching and familiarsation” practice sessions.