Promising research has been revealed that suggests your optometrist could be part of the team that helps identify autism earlier. According to researchers at the University of Rochester, rapid eye movements (known as saccade) may be the key. In healthy eyes, shifting our gaze between objects is how we interact with our world. For someone on the autism spectrum, the movements may over or undershoot the intended target location, potentially impacting social or emotional development.
The hope is that if saccade deficits continue to be discovered in children with autism spectrum disorder, the possibility of measuring and early detection could result in treatment or behavioural training being offered sooner. Recent work shows that saccadic adaptation has been successfully measured in children as young as 10 to 41 months of age. This is encouraging for families as the symptoms of autism vary greatly and can be difficult to detect in children. Although more research is needed, adding this tool to the diagnosis and treatment plan could mean earlier intervention and more positive outcomes.
Autism spectrum disorder can impact motor, sensory, language, social and emotional development. If there is a dysfunction in any of the sensory systems, visual dysfunction will also occur. This is something that can be picked up by your optometrist and is why it is recommended that children undergo visual exams as early as six months of age. The period between 18 months and four years of age is of particular importance for visual testing as this is typically the window during which autism would be diagnosed.
Learn more about the role of optometry as it relates to autism at the links below: