Autism and Visual Problems in Children
Poor eye contact, clumsiness, difficulty with fine motor skills, and concentration issues common in children who have autism can actually be related to vision problems. Treating these problems with vision therapy may benefit your child both academically and socially.
Strabismus, a condition commonly referred to as "crossed" eyes, occurs when the eyes are misaligned. Due to the misalignment, the brain receives slightly different images from each eye and has difficulty creating one clear image. Misalignments don't have to be noticeable to affect your child's vision. Strabismus can cause depth perception problems, double vision, eyestrain, and headaches.
Does your child constantly tilt their head? They may have discovered that tilting makes it easier to use just one eye and avoid the vision issues that using both eyes cause. Issues with depth perception can also affect your child's motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and make it difficult to catch or throw a ball accurately.
Convergence Insufficiency Disorder
Both eyes must turn inward slightly when your child reads at the words on a page or looks closely at an object. If one eye doesn't turn inward at the same degree as the other eye, the object will look blurry or your child might see double. Children who have convergence insufficiency may avoid doing homework or find reading exhausting.
Visual Processing Issues
Light impulses travel from your child's eyes to the brain via the optic nerve. Once they reach the brain, they're processed into images. If the brain has difficulty processing images, your son or daughter may have trouble writing and recognizing letters and numbers or correctly identifying shapes. A processing problem may also affect spatial ability. If your child can't walk through the living room without bumping into furniture, a visual processing disorder may be to blame. The disorder might also be responsible for gait or posture issues or toe walking.
70 to 90 percent of children with autism have visual processing issues, according to an interview with Neuro-Developmental Optometrist Dr. Susan Daniel in an Optometrists Network article.
Difficulty Coordinating Central and Peripheral Vision
Children who have autism often have attention issues that can create challenges at school. They may focus so intently on a task or hobby that they don't respond when you call their names or can't be easily persuaded to move on to a new task.
The problem may occur if a child is overwhelmed when switching his or her focus from central to side vision and back again. Moving between both types of vision requires a significant degree of coordination and the ability to quickly process the information received. If your child has a coordination issue, it may be easier to focus on central vision and ignore anything in the periphery. When children focus so intently on a toy or book in front of them, they may not realize that you're trying to get their attention.
Trouble coordinating side and central vision may also be a factor in lack of eye contact. It may simply be more comfortable for your child to use his side vision when interacting with other people.
Visual Midline Shift Syndrome (VMSS)
VMSS can occur after a stroke or brain injury but may also be an issue in children who have autism. People who have the syndrome can't tell where the middle of their bodies are located and believe that the midline is located to the left or right of where it actually is. VMSS can make walking, moving through crowded rooms, catching a ball, and other everyday activities challenging.
How Can Vision Therapists Help Children Who Autism?
Vision therapy enhances the connection between the brain and the eyes with a selection of exercises, games, lenses, and visual aids. Your child may play computer games designed to improve his or her peripheral vision or other treatments to improve eye teaming and reduce convergence insufficiency symptoms. Therapy plans are specially designed to address your child's eye disorders and symptoms.
Prism lenses can be particularly helpful in children who have autism. Single or yoked lenses bend the light rays that enter the eye and can help keep both eyes properly aligned, stop head tilts, improve coordination and gait, and even reduce toe walking. The lenses may also help your child with spatial awareness and reduce clumsiness.
Would you like to find out if vision therapy could help your child? Contact our office to schedule a comprehensive vision examination.
Child Psychiatry and Human Development, Winter 1996
College of Optometrists in Vision Development: Vision and Autism, 1/2/08
Optometry and Visual Performance: Vision Therapy for the Autistic Patient, 10/14
Optometrists Network: Autism, Vision Disorders and Developmental Optometry