Vision and Autism: Part 2

Editor: Dr. Russel Lazarus, Published April 13, 2021

Author: Randy Schulman, MS, OD, FCOVD

As vision is key to so many other systems, vision intervention, such as vision therapy, can have a profound effect on an autistic child.

Benefits of vision therapy

Specific optical lenses, prisms, tints, and vision therapy are highly effective in treating patients on the autism spectrum.

The power of lenses and prisms should not be underestimated. The appropriately prescribed lenses and prisms can have immediate and profound effects on the total system and can contribute towards integrating the individual.

After a program of vision therapy, I routinely see immediate improvements in:

  • Posture
  • Language skills
  • Eye hand and eye body coordination
  • Visual skills

Often, I see a child that could not catch a ball, catch it easily, or one that did not speak, start engaging in conversation with the glasses on.

Signs vision therapy is needed

In addition to lenses and prisms, sometimes with or without tints, vision therapy is an important treatment for individuals with vision difficulties.

The most commonly observed signs, indicating that vision therapy could benefit a child include:

  • Poor eye contact
  • Repetitive hand movements
  • Staring
  • Side looking
  • Light sensitivity
  • Poor coordination
  • Learning challenges

These above may be signs of inefficient or poorly developed visual skills.

A customized program of vision therapy provides the opportunity to develop these visual skills in a guided and therapeutic manner.

Examination of visual skills is essential

As an integrative optometrist, I recognize the impact a child’s functional visual skills has on their learning and enjoyment of every day tasks.

Assessment of the visual skills for all children on the autistism spectrum should include:

  • Lazy eye
  • Eye turns
  • Focusing
  • Eye teaming
  • Eye tracking
  • Convergence
  • Stereopsis
  • Visual processing

It is essential to assess vision in the context of nutrition, physical health, development, environmental and genetic factors, cognitive ability, motor, speech and language, and educational demands.

Autism and vision

Vision is a child’s dominant sense and much of the brain is dedicated to visual learning. 

The individual learns most efficiently in a multimodal fashion. That means that learning occurs best when inputs from different parts of the brain match.

In children with developmental delays, there is often a lack of cohesion between visual, auditory, and other inputs leading to the unusual behaviors, language, and socialization difficulties such as repetitive movements, echolalia or repeating words, and lack of eye contact.

Accurate assessment of the child in a vision examination includes looking at:

  • Posture
  • Balance
  • Physical health
  • Receptive and expressive speech patterns
  • Cognitive understanding of the tasks given
  • Motor coordination
  • Attention and awareness

The functional vision examination gives essential information so that the appropriate intervention can be recommended.