It is very common for children with autism to have vision issues and even more common for those issues to go undetected, according to the Journal of the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus.
Below, you can learn what type of vision problems a child on the autism spectrum may have and how you can help.
Vision Problems for Children with Autism
Children who are on the autism spectrum can have a variety of vision problems that have a significant impact on their daily lives. They tend to have visual processing issues that manifest as vision problems.
One typical concern children with autism face is coordinating central and peripheral vision, which makes it difficult for them to follow an object with their eyes. The child may also turn their head to use peripheral vision instead of central vision.
A child with autism may also have an eye movement disorder. Eye movement disorders include crossed eyes, or strabismus, which occurs when the eyes are not aligned and point in different directions.
There may also be issues with visual stimuli, as some autistic children are very sensitive to visual input. This can mean that they may not want to make eye contact with people or that they may constantly move their eyes.
Other common concerns are visual-spatial processing issues. These issues can lead to repetitive actions like blinking or wanting to watch spinning objects.
Some children with autism might want to run instead of walk because of vision midline shift syndrome. In this syndrome, visual-spatial processing does not match up with the balance centers.
Symptoms that can indicate your autistic child may have a vision problem include:
- Looking beyond or through objects
- Extreme fear of heights
- Absence of appropriate fear of heights
- Lazy eye
- Rolling eyes
- Visual stimming, such as moving hands in front of eyes rapidly
- Light sensitivity
These symptoms can make a child feel confused and anxious, lowering their quality of life.
Effects of Vision Problems
An autistic child with vision problems is less likely to want to make eye contact, which can affect them socially. They may not want to verbalize or engage in playing with others if they are visually overstimulated.
Visual stimming is another concern for children with autism and vision problems.
To manage visual overload, many autistic children choose to flap their hands in front of their eyes. This can also soothe strained eyes, so the child may engage in visual stimming behavior if they feel tired or overwhelmed.
Some children on the autistic spectrum develop posture issues due to vision problems, too, especially if there is an interruption to the organization of visual-spatial processing. Children with these issues may frequently trip and fall or develop the habit of walking on their toes.
You can seek a vision evaluation to determine the specific vision concerns affecting your child.
Visual Evaluations for Children With Autism
If you think your child may have vision problems, the best thing to do is to reach out to experts. Professionals who have experience treating children on the autism spectrum will perform several evaluations to see what the problem is.
These evaluations will assess various factors, including your child’s eye tracking, which refers to the eyes’ ability to track moving objects. Eye tracking problems may result in your child tending to look at things or people sideways.
The professional will also evaluate whether your child has binocular vision or eye teaming problems, which refers to limitations in their eyes’ ability to work together to gather visual information. If your child has headaches, double or blurry vision, or eye strain, these signs could indicate a binocular vision problem.
The exam will also check for eye movement disorders, which can make unified eye movements difficult. In children with autism, the most common eye movement disorder is strabismus.
Most professionals will also check the child’s visual acuity to see how well they identify shapes and details at a distance.
After the evaluation, you will be able to begin treatment for your child’s vision issues.
Several options are available for the treatment of vision problems in children with autism.
One that can be extremely helpful is vision therapy, an evidence-based treatment that helps strengthen the coordination and connection of the brain and eyes.
Vision therapy can take place both in-office and at home. It often yields results after about four months.
To supplement this therapy, a professional may want to add computer-based games and balance boards.
Prism lenses are another treatment option for children with visual-spatial problems.
These lenses move objects and images to the locations where the brain thinks they should go. Prism lenses might also tremendously reduce your child’s anxiety by helping them feel physically safe.
Know Your Options
If you think your child has vision issues, contact professionals who will help you find the right treatments. You can give your child a higher quality of life by assisting them in interpreting visual input better.