Autism is a disorder characterized by challenges in communication, socialization, learning, behavior and the appropriate use of play or leisure time. It does not appear to discriminate based on genetics, education level or socio-economic class — though it does appear to be more common in boys (three times more likely than in girls)
Autism is considered a “spectrum disorder,” since the effect of autism can range from mild to severe in any person. As such, there is a wide range of symptoms, skills and levels of disability in functioning.
With that in mind, how we approach children with Autism as ophthalmologists (eye doctors) takes special care.
Eye Exams for Children with Autism
Some individuals with autism can communicate quite well, but I am often asked how I can determine visual acuity for someone who cannot respond to a question frequently asked during eye exams:
Better at line 1 or 2?
An ophthalmologist might start by noting whether a patient can fixate on an entertaining object. Pictures can be used instead of letters if necessary.
An autorefractor machine — a computer-controlled device used during an eye examination to provide a measurement of a person’s refractive error and prescription for glasses or contact lenses — might also be utilized as a starting point.
Another exam, known as a cycloplegic refraction, is helpful because it avoids any chance for the patient to accommodate and doesn’t require the person to communicate what or how well they can see.
Learning More About Autism
In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued their ADDM autism prevalence report. The report found that the prevalence of autism has risen to 1 in every 59 births in the United States – twice the rate of 2004 (1 in 125).
Learn about the different types of autism spectrum disorders, how autism affects individuals and families and more – visit AutismSpeaks.org.