Visual Impairment & Autism

See also:    Sensory Systems    Repetitive Behavior (Stimming)   

Internet Resources

At the end of this brief introductory article, I hope that you will have a general understanding of the definition of autism and why it is possible for a child to have both a significant visual impairment and autism.
Terese Pawletco
For the child to make sense of his world he must experience a world that makes sense to him. We can play an enabling role, however in order to do this we must appreciate that the blind child experiences his world in an intrinsically different way.
Fiona Boyce, Fiona Hammond
Course syllabus, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Handicapped
Terese Pawletko, Lorraine Rocissano
The following charts may assist teams by describing characteristics of 'typical' development, of development of children who are blind/vision impaired, and of children who have ASD and blindness/vision impairment.
Marilyn H. Gense, David Gense
For many of the children who are blind and who also display features of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) it is possible that their characteristics, while being representative of ASD, actually follow a different pathway to those children who have ASD and are sighted. It is proposed that these children should be viewed as having specific features rather than being a part of the collective of ASD. This article explores this issue by comparing the criteria for ASD with behaviours of both children who are sighted and those who are blind. Additionally, the diagnoses of blindness associated with neurological involvement and early medical complications are discussed. The effectiveness of intervention strategies and programmes is explored.
Rebecca Andrews, Shirley Wyver
We must think of autism, the developmental disability, as the tip of the iceberg and strive to find brain connections but also defects in other organ systems. I think of it like this: cell wall receptors may remain bound with hormone even after g-protein separates off receptors may be replaced by only a fat oil form (called cis) of Vitamin A, found in liver, kidney, Milkfat and cod liver oil.
Mary Megson
sighted adults frequently behave in an autistic-like, and in an autism-promoting manner, towards blind children. Can we expect blind children to develop joint attention with us if they usually experience distorted or cut off attention from us?
Knut Brandsborg
Both the autistic and the blind child have to learn - by help of cognitive ways of thinking - what normal children without any impairment normally intuitively know.
Anette Ingsholt
This article reports the results of an exploratory survey of 32 families of children with septo-optic dysplasia and 32 families of children without visual impairment or any specific health problems (who served as a comparison group). The focus of the research was to explore the children's musical interests and abilities, the musical provision that was made for them, and the ways in which music might impact upon their wider development and education. The reports of the parents and carers provided a substantial amount of information, and while the data may have been subject to certain biases, the findings nevertheless serve as an important signpost for future research. The main conclusions relate to the fact that, despite reportedly high levels of musical interest and ability among children with septo-optic dysplasia - consistently higher than in the case of their fully-sighted counterparts - few had access to appropriate music-educational or therapeutic support, compared to many of the comparison group who were able to take advantage of a wide range of musical opportunities. Within the group with septo-optic dysplasia, those children who had to access the curriculum through non-visual means often displayed significantly different characteristics from those who were partially sighted, and level of vision seemed to be a more important factor in influencing musical development than the presence of the septo-optic dysplasia syndrome itself. It was evident that further research is needed to explore the levels of musical interest and ability in visually impaired children with a range of other eye conditions and syndromes, and to investigate in more detail the important role that music may play in promoting their wider development.
Linda Pring, Alan Ockelford
It is estimated that students today read about three times as many textbooks as they did 50 years ago. This increased use of near-vision has placed additional strain on the eyes; experts suggest that vision difficulties have consequently increased.
This paper will consider the educational implications of the dual condition, but first it will establish the importance, for educational practice, of recognising both conditions.
Rita Jordan
Questions about appearance of eyes, complaints when using eyes at desk, behavioral signs of vision problems, eye movement abilities, eye teaming abilities, eye-hand coordination, visual form perception, refractive status
Optometric Extension Program Foundation
This guide and checklist has been prepared to assist all school personnel and consulting clinicians in making reliable observations of children's visual behavior that could be interfering with academic progress
Optometric Extension Program Foundation
Historically, many of the behaviors exhibited by blind children were labeled as autistic-like but were attributed to their blindness. We seek to clarify some of these misconceptions.
Terese Pawletko, Lorraine Rocissano
Although atypical eye gaze is commonly observed in autism, little is known about underlying oculomotor abnormalities. Our review of visual search and oculomotor systems in the healthy brain suggests that relevant networks may be partially impaired in autism, given regional abnormalities known from neuroimaging. However, direct oculomotor evidence for autism remains limited. This gap is critical since oculomotor abnormalities might play a causal role in functions known to be impaired in autism, such as imitation and joint attention. We integrate our oculomotor review into a developmental approach to language impairment related to nonverbal prerequisites. Oculomotor abnormalities may play a role as a sensorimotor defect at the root of impairments in later developing functional systems, ultimately resulting in sociocommunicative deficits.
LA Brenner et al
We assessed motion processing in a group of high functioning children with autism and a group of typically developing children, using a coherent motion detection task. Twenty-five children with autism (mean age 11 years, 8 months) and 22 typically developing children matched for non-verbal mental ability and chronological age were required to detect the direction of moving dots in a random dot kinematogram. The group of children with autism showed significantly higher motion coherence thresholds than the typically developing children (i.e., they showed an impaired ability to detect coherent motion). CONCLUSIONS: This finding suggests that some individuals with autism may show impairments in low-level visual processing--specifically in the magnocellular visual pathway. The findings are discussed in terms of implications for higher-level cognitive theories of autism, and the suggestion is made that more work needs to be carried out to further investigate low-level visual processing in autism.
Elizabeth Milne et al
A visual agnosia is the inability to recognize a target despite the preservation of mental and visual functions. It is usually a result of a structural brain lesion, most commonly an ischemic infarction in the domain of the posterior cerebral artery.
Michael Vaphiades
PDD is often associated with congenital infections and structural abnormalities of the central nervous system. Both of these conditions are also often seen as causes of visual impairment.
Marnee Loftin
Unusual sensory experiences have been observed in autistic people for many years and are confirmed by personal accounts of autistic individuals. As all the senses are integrated, the deficiency in one of them may lead to disturbances in the others.
Olga Bogdashina.
A summary of a number of studies pertaining to visual functioning.
Elisa Brazil
Promotes and supports new developments and effective practices in the education of children and young people with sensory impairments i.e. visual, hearing or dual (deaf blindness) sensory impairment.
With the students I have been involved with who are autistic and visually impaired, they will use any vision that they have given the auditory/language world can be pretty unreliable for them.
Terese Pawletko
Visual distortions could be the cause of autistic symptoms, according to an American expert. And a simple treatment with vitamin A might be the answer.
Jerome Burne
Understanding the visual components that accompany each stage of healthy motor development is the key to teaching vision skills that have not automatically developed in a child with autism.
Achievers Unlimited
All the while those of us with sensory systems intact say that he's in his own world. and he is, literally. Only HE can see, hear and feel his world as he does, but he did not ask it to be so.
Audrey Adams
Learning disability is a common accompaniment of visual impairment, and autism a common accompaniment of learning disability.
Hilary Cass

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