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If your child has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), you might have many questions about the next steps. One common concern among parents of children with ASD is whether or not their child will have vision problems. Here’s what you need to know about ASD and vision issues.
What is autism?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental condition that affects a patient’s social skills, speech, and nonverbal communication. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in 44 children in the United States are diagnosed with ASD.
Currently, there is no definitive answer as to whether or not children with ASD are more likely to experience vision problems. However, some research suggests that there might be a correlation between the two.
Vision Problems for Children With Autism
A study published in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology found that children with ASD were more likely to have a higher incidence of refractive error, strabismus, and amblyopia.
While the exact cause of this correlation is unknown, it’s possible that ASD and vision issues could be linked because both involve difficulties with processing visual information.
If you’re concerned about your child’s vision, it’s important to talk to your doctor so they can perform a comprehensive eye exam.
There are a few vision issues that are common in children with ASD. These include:
Coordinating Peripheral and Central Vision
Peripheral and central vision problems make it difficult for patients with ASD to keep their eyes on an object. A person with ASD may gaze over to the side rather than keep their eyes fixed on an object.
Eye Movement Disorders
Patients with ASD are frequently diagnosed with eye movement disorders like “strabismus” or crossed eyes. This is when the patient’s eyes are not correctly aligned. One eye may point upward or downward while the other points to either side.
Because of this, people with ASD might not like certain types of clothes or foods because of how they feel. They might also cover their ears because certain sounds bother them.
People with ASD can also be visually defensive, meaning they can be oversensitive to visual stimuli. This makes it difficult for them to establish eye contact, which results in constant eye movement and scanning for visual information.
Spatial Visual Processing Problems
People on the spectrum may also experience spatial visual processing problems. This causes the patient to focus solely on particulars and persist on recurrent visual actions.
Since children with ASD often have difficulty communicating, it can be difficult to know if they are experiencing problems with their vision. Here are some symptoms to be aware of when watching for vision problems in children with autism.
Symptoms of Vision Problems in Children With Autism
Parents should be aware of the following signs that may indicate their child needs an eye exam:
- Visual stimming
- Extreme fear of heights or absence of appropriate fear of heights
- Hypersensitivity to bright lights or patterns
- Lazy eye
- Rolling eyes
- Looking beyond or through objects
- Side viewing
Effects of Vision Problems
Because of vision problems, children with autism may also experience difficulties making or maintaining eye contact. They may also participate in visual stimming more often.
Autism spectrum disorder affects visual processing in children. This can cause a child to fixate on the particulars of a certain situation and persist in recurrent actions. Vision problems in children can also affect balance and posture. This may be due to the interruption it causes to a child’s spatial visual process.
This is why children with ASD frequently move their weight forward, putting more load on their toes. As a result, the child may experience tripping and falling or acquire a propensity for “toe-walking.”
If you suspect your child has vision problems, here are some visual evaluations you can ask your doctor to perform on your child.
Visual Evaluations for Children With Autism
The type of visual evaluation necessary to assess your child with ASD will vary, depending on their emotional and physical development. Generally, the patient is asked to perform several tasks while using special lenses during the test.
For instance, the patient may be asked to sit, stand, walk, throw, and catch—among other activities chosen by the administering physician. Observations of their postural adjustments and compensations will be taken by the doctor or an assisting nurse.
Moreover, these visual evaluations will help experts determine if your child has binocular vision, eye teaming problems, and other eye movement disorders. For instance, a binocular vision problem could manifest through headaches, eye strain, or double or blurry vision.
These examinations aid in figuring out how patients with ASD process visual information. It also helps in determining the best form of treatment.
If your child has a vision problem, there are many treatment options available. For example, glasses or contact lenses can help correct refractive errors. Your child’s doctor may recommend patching the stronger eye in order to force the weaker eye to work harder.
Vision therapy is one of the most successful treatments for patients with ASD and visual issues. Its goal is to strengthen the neurological connections between the brain and eyes, ultimately enhancing a patient’s visual skills.
Therapy programs are tailored to fit specific patient needs, such as age-appropriate activities and exercise.
Here are some common vision therapy goals for children with ASD:
- Stabilize peripheral vision
- Enhance central vision
- Strengthen eye coordination
- Organize visual-spatial processing
- Boost visual information processing
Children with ASD and vision issues can also lead more productive lives with the help of prism lenses. When worn daily, special lenses can effectively improve a patient’s balance, posture, and concentration. It can also boost their sense of comfort and physical safety in their environment by reducing sensory overload and anxiety.
The Bottom Line
If you suspect your child with autism may have vision issues, it is important to get them assessed by a professional. Ask your child’s doctor for advice on the best course of action.
There are many treatments available that can help make life easier for your little one. Vision therapy and prism glasses are treatments that can help children with autism adjust to daily life.
If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.
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