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Functional Vision Problems and Autism – What’s the Connection?

March 1 2022

Autism spectrum disorder can take a tremendous toll on children, adults, and their caretakers as well. People affected by autism have difficulty interacting with others and are prone to experiencing distress in busy, loud, or bright environments. One that often goes undiagnosed in someone with autism is vision problems, or rather functional vision problems. Read on as an Annapolis, MD vision therapy optometrist talks about the link between autism and vision problems. 

Are Vision Problems More Common in Children With Autism?

Autism is classified as a developmental disorder that impairs a child’s (or adult’s) ability to communicate and interact with others. Autism symptoms can vary widely in both range and severity, some of which include:

  • Compulsive behaviors
  • Self-harm
  • Impulsive
  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Anxiety
  • Sensitive to sound
  • Difficulty empathizing with the emotions of others

Vision problems, such as astigmatism, nearsightedness, and farsightedness may be more common in people with autism and many go undiagnosed and untreated. Also, functional vision skills, in particular, appear to be significantly impacted by autism spectrum disorder.

What Are Functional Vision Problems?

The cause of autism remains unknown, making the cause of vision problems equally unknown. However, over the years, it’s apparent that certain functional vision problems appear with regularity in people living with autism. 

Unlike focal vision, which has to do with visual acuity or clearness, functional vision deals with how both eyes work together to relay information to the brain. In effect, the brain uses the data obtained by the eyes to create the images you see and the perceptions you have. 

Here are just a few functional vision skills that affect a person’s ability to interact with her environment:

  • Peripheral awareness
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Eye tracking
  • Focusing
  • Eye teaming

When the eyes don’t work together as a team as they should, this interferes with their ability to relay data to the brain. It can also scramble or distort the data that’s sent to the brain. These conditions not only affect how a person interacts with her environment but also how she experiences it. In this respect, it’s easy to see the impact vision problems can have on a child affected by autism.

Signs of Functional Vision Problems to Watch for in Autistic Individuals

  • Extreme reactions to bright lights
  • Viewing things from the side of the eyes, such as when watching TV
  • Fleeting glances or rolling eyes
  • Language difficulties
  • Crossed eyes
  • Inability to maintain eye contact with others
  • Looking past or through objects rather than directly at them

If you have more questions about vision problems and autism or wish to schedule a consultation, please don’t hesitate to call our Annapolis, MD vision therapy optometry office today. 

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The Center for Vision Development



2525 Riva Road Suite 126
Annapolis, MD 21401


As of Friday 6/30/23, the office will be closing on 4:00pm on all Fridays through the rest of the summer.