The autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a group of developmental disabilities that are characterized by significant impairments in social interaction and communication, as well as repetitive stereotyped behaviors. Individuals who have ASD often are affected in their ability to attend, learn and process sensory stimuli. The term spectrum refers to the tremendous variation in how the condition is manifested. For instance, cognitively those with ASD may range from gifted to severely-challenged, from talkative to completely non-verbal, and from performing independently to needing constant one on-one attention. Symptoms of ASD begin before the age of 3 years and exist throughout an individual’s life. ASD occurs in all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups and is four times more common in boys than girls. Research of visual symptoms has shown the symptom logy experienced by children with ASD are more severe and complex than those found in children who are developing normally. The visual symptoms highly associated with the ASD are:

  • Gaze aversion
  • Turning head
  • looking out of corner of eye
  • Being attracted to shiny surfaces or mirrors
  • Prolonged fixating on light patterns, windows or blinds
  • Hyper fixating on one object while ignoring other objects in the room
  • Always prefers/avoids a particular color
  • Shows distorted body postures or orientation including arching back, hyperextension of neck
  • Toe walking
  • Touches all surfaces (walls, furniture, etc) when in an unfamiliar environment
  • Anxiety or avoidance associated with fast moving objects or animals
  • Spinning objects close to face
  • Intense light sensitivity
  • Poor attention to one’s surroundings as well as a lack of interest in one’s environment
  • Preference for looking at objects (or parts of objects) rather than people

Visual symptoms included in the screening/ diagnosis of ASD

  • Poor eye contact
  • Excessively lines up toys or other objects
  • Fidgets with objects repetitively
  • Maintains interest in spinning objects for periods greater than a couple of minutes
  • Does not follow where someone else is looking
  • Walks on tiptoe
  • Flicking fingers or hands near face
  • Stares at nothing with no apparent purpose
  • Excessive interest limited to a single toy

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