Autism, Children & Vision Care

Specialized Vision Care for Children with Autism

Autism spectrum (ASD) is a disorder that impacts the nervous system. It is known as a “spectrum” disorder because symptoms and severity vary so widely. Some of the more common symptoms include difficulty with communication, difficulty with social interactions, obsessive interests, and repetitive behaviors.

Children on the autism spectrum typically have a number of similar behaviors that could be associated with a vision issue. Children with ASD may:

  • Widen their eyes, squint or close an eye when asked to look
  • Stare intently at certain objects or patterns
  • Look through their hands
  • Flap their hands, flick objects in front of their eyes
  • Look at objects sideways or with quick glances
  • Show sensitivity to light (photophobia)
  • Become confused at complex patterns in flooring or on stairways
  • Press or rub eyes
  • Have difficulty making eye contact
  • Bump into objects
  • Be fascinated by lights and shadows
  • Touch walls or tables while moving through space

Parents, teachers, and other professionals often are confused as to whether these behaviors are caused by a vision problem, or the disorder itself. A vision examination with an eye doctor familiar with ASD, such as at the Special Needs Vision Clinic at Texas Children's Specialty Care Clinic in Cy-Fair, can determine eye health and any potential need for glasses. The specialists also examine eye movement, strabismus or “lazy eye” issues and discuss the treatment options.

ASD occurs in all ethnic, racial and economic groups. Although ASD can be a lifelong disorder, early recognition, treatments and services can improve a person’s symptoms, development and ability to function. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children be screened for autism. All caregivers should talk to their doctor about ASD screening or evaluation.

People on the autism spectrum may:

  • Have difficulty with communication and interaction with other people
  • Tend not to look at or listen to people
  • Fail to, or being slow to, respond to someone calling their name or to other verbal attempts to gain attention
  • Have difficulties with the back and forth of conversation
  • Talk at length about a favorite subject without noticing that others are not interested or without giving others a chance to respond
  • Have facial expressions, movements, and gestures that do not match what is being said
  • Have an unusual tone of voice that may sound sing-song or flat and robot-like
  • Have trouble understanding another person’s point of view or being unable to predict or understand other people’s actions
  • Repeat certain behaviors or having unusual behaviors. For example, repeating words or phrases, a behavior called echolalia
  • Have a lasting intense interest in certain topics, such as numbers, details, or facts
  • Have overly focused interests, such as with moving objects or parts of objects
  • Get upset by slight changes in a routine
  • Be more or less sensitive than other people to sensory input, such as light, noise, clothing, or temperature
  • Experience sleep problems and irritability.
  • Be able to learn things in detail and remember information for long periods of time
  • Be strong visual and auditory learners
  • Excel in math, science, music, or art

If you suspect your child may be autistic, the Autism Center at Texas Children's Hospital focuses on children who have or are suspected of having autism spectrum disorder and provides individualized diagnosis and treatment plans for each child and their family.