Autism Spectrum Disorders in Children Who Are Blind or Low Vision

The term “autism spectrum disorders” refers to a range of neurological disorders that affect a child’s ability to communicate, relate to others, and understand or respond to sensory input. In general, the cause of these disorders is not known. Autism spectrum disorders uniquely affect each child. Children with such a disorder may have a mild or severe condition, ranging from gifted to severely cognitively impaired. It is important to be aware that children need to have more than one characteristic of an autism spectrum disorder to be diagnosed with the condition.

Rachel taking popcorn off shelf in grocery store Consistency is crucial for this grade schooler. Each week, when she goes to the grocery store, she gets the cart, pushes it to the snack aisle, checks her grocery list to see what item she is buying, picks it out, and puts it in the cart. With support, she is able to do these steps.

Some medical and educational professionals may mistake behaviors that your child exhibits because of their blindness or low vision as being an indicator that they have an autism spectrum disorder. For example, some children with blindness or low vision engage in stereotypical behaviors such as rocking, spinning, or manipulating an object in the same way over and over again. Although this behavior may appear similar to some children with autism spectrum disorders, it has a different cause.

In addition, children with blindness or low vision often experience challenges in learning to communicate with others and to engage in social interactions. Because these are two areas that are often difficult for children with autism spectrum disorders, it can be difficult to determine if a child with a severe eye condition also has an autism spectrum disorder. Therefore, if a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder is being discussed for your child, a teacher of students with visual impairments ought to be working with the professionals who are making the diagnosis so that the other team members can be helped to understand which behaviors may be the result of blindness or low vision.

Tele-Support Group for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Blindness or Low Vision

Lighthouse Guild for the Blind offers a free National Tele-Support Network for Parents of Children with Visual Impairment to connect you with parents whose children also have autism spectrum disorders and low vision or blindness so that you can share resources, experiences, strength, and hope. The tele-support groups meet by phone weekly and are facilitated by a psychologist or social worker with input from professionals knowledgeable about children’s eye conditions.

For more information or to enroll in a tele-support group, call 800-562-6265.

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