April 2nd was World Autism Awareness Day, and the whole month of April is dedicated to bringing awareness to autism.
Autism is a neurobiological disorder that can affect processing and responding to information to varying degrees. People with autism frequently have a very disorganized visual system. As you may have read in our blog before, 80% of our visual system is dedicated to telling us what an object is, and the other 20% tell us where we are in space (our GPS system). When these fibers don’t talk to each other efficiently, we have trouble with balance, with coordinating movement, or with tracking an object. People with autism may only be able to process a small amount of information at one time, and thus may solely utilize their central vision and ignore peripheral stimuli or vice versa.
According to the College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD) there are five very common visual signs of people with autism
- Lack of eye contact
- Staring at spinning objects or light
- Fleeting peripheral glances
- Side viewing
- Difficulty maintaining visual attention
Strabimus (eye turn) is much more common in those with autism (~18%) than the general population (~1-2%). Those diagnosed as being on the spectrum should have a complete eye exam by a developmental optometrist to address lens options and possibly even vision therapy. These patients do not need to be verbal to have an eye exam, and will not have to be able to answer “which is better: 1 or 2?”. Many times we will simply observe the person’s behaviors and trial lenses to see if any difference is made. One such observation frequently seen in those with autism is toe walking. This may be minimized through the use of yoked prisms, a type of lens that changes space and how our peripheral and central systems talk to each other.
One resource you may consider helpful is a new book by Raun Kaufman titled “Autism Breakthrough”. He was diagnosed with severe autism at a young age, however his parents developed the Son-Rise Program to help him overcome his condition.