Vision in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Boy with Autism

Every disorder has impact on quality of life. Evidence based interventions can have a positive impact on the well-being life of autistic people as well as their caregivers. Actions at the community and social levels must go hand in hand with care for people with autism to promote greater inclusivity and support.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neuro-developmental disorder which is characterized by deficiencies in social interaction, and repetitive unusual patterns of behavior, interests, or activities and communication. Symptoms firstly appear in the childhood, and they might last until adolescence and maturity. According to WHO (World Health Organization), one in hundred children has autism worldwide.

The wide range of motor difficulties in ASD have been highlighted by a number of recent reviews. Gait, relying on visual information to maintain and alter balance and posture, manual dexterity, praxis, and issues with manipulating dynamical objects like aiming and catching are a few of these. Most research highlights the fact that these motor issues can last throughout adolescence and adulthood.

Children with ASD often have difficulties with visual-motor integration. Visual-motor integration (VMI) is the ability to guide movements by means of visual sensory information. It is generally measured by Berry VMI test as the ability to copy geometric forms. ASD individuals appear to have difficulty coordinating their eye-hand motions, which may be a factor of their motor skills deficiency.

Study found out that visual perception and visual-motor integration are comparable with children without ASD disorder. Atypical motor skill performance, however, was discovered, indicating that motor skill deficiencies should be taken into account in the diagnosis process and while developing therapies for children with ASD. Visual perception and visual-motor integration did not seem to be related to the motor skills of children with ASD.

Beery Visual-Motor Integration (VMI) test
Image credits: Joan Stiles

Vision therapy for children with Autism

Common vision problems associated with ASD include tracking objects moving quickly, maintaining eye contact with people, processing reactions to visual stimuli, looking beyond or through objects, aligning their eyes (strabismus), keeping the eyes from wandering (lazy eye), having light sensitivity, eye-rolling.

The goal of vision therapy is to strengthen the neural connections between the eyes and the brain and to enhance visual abilities. For a child with ASD, vision therapy will promote better visual processing, allowing them to comprehend their environment with more certainty—and subsequently improve associated behaviors like anxiety, social skills, and language skills. Many vision therapy programs for children with ASD focus on central vision, peripheral stability, efficient eye coordination, and visual information processing.

In conclusion, vision therapy can substantially help improve vision problems associated with ASD and, consequently, elevate quality of life, not just for the person affected but also for those around them.

Faber, L., van den Bos, N., Houwen, S., Schoemaker, M. M., & Rosenblum, S. (2022). Motor skills, visual perception, and visual-motor integration in children and youth with autism spectrum disorder. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 96, 101998. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rasd.2022.101998