Autism And Vision – “Kyle And The Ripple Effect”

Vision problems are common with autism and many times are overlooked. Normal autistic behaviors, such as: poor eye contact, looking though or beyond objects, extreme aversion to light, unusual reaction to sight, lack of reciprocal play, inordinate fear of heights or lack of appropriate fear of heights and stemming, could be visual symptoms.

Kyle’s story is one that his mom wants as many people to know so his frustration does not have to be repeated. While in a park, when he was three years old, Kyle walked over a 50 foot cliff. Years later, when he had a developmental visual evaluation, it was found that he lacked depth perception. No wonder he had walked over the cliff. In grade school, on his Individualized Educational Program, the staff wrote that he lacked reciprocal play because throwing and catching a ball was difficult. He had been practicing throwing and catching in occupational therapy for 2½ years. After getting prism glasses and six weeks of vision therapy, Kyle was able to throw and catch a ball. Kyle had an unusual gait. It was stiff and flat-footed. He wouldn’t run. After vision therapy, he could ride a bike and play on monkey bars. After vision therapy, his gait changed. Kyle would look off into space; he seemed to be tuning out vision to be able to attend to auditory information. With auditory, occupational and vision therapy, his senses started working together instead of only being able to use one or the other.

Kyle’s mom wants people to imagine a quiet pool of water. When you drop a pebble in the middle, the calm water ripples outward. One small pebble can create quite an impact. If there is a visual problem, the vision problem can impact motor development. If motor development is impacted, that can impact social and communication skills. Kyle’s mom thinks that if they had known about his visual problems when he was much younger, many of his motor and social deficits would not have been so significant.

If your child has a diagnosis on the autism spectrum, be sure they have a visual evaluation with a developmental optometrist as soon as possible. A person does not have to be verbal in order to find out if they are nearsighted, farsighted or have astigmatism. Visual games will be played to see how the person’s eyes aim, focus, track, follow, move, see 3-D (depth perception), and process central-peripheral information.

Yoked prisms are special lenses that bend light in the same direction: up, down, left or right. These lenses can have dramatic results by creating a difference in how the world is seen and allows the person to change how their world is perceived. In the visual evaluation, an activity such as throwing and catching a ball, walking up and down stairs or using scissors to cut along a line may be done. While wearing different powers of yoked lenses, the same activity is repeated and evaluated. The doctor may prescribe yoked prisms for special activities or for full time wear. The lenses may use them as an integral part of vision therapy.

Visual problems are common with those that have a diagnosis on the autism spectrum. Having a visual evaluation by a developmental optometrist may lead to treatment that can have a ripple effect on sensory development and integration.