Visual sensory sensitivities are a common sensory issue in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). They may experience hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to certain visual stimuli, such as bright lights, flashing lights, or patterns. These sensitivities can cause discomfort, anxiety, or even pain.
For example, an individual with ASD may have difficulty with bright or fluorescent lighting, as it can be overwhelming and cause sensory overload. They may also have trouble with busy or visually cluttered environments, as it can be difficult to focus on specific objects or tasks.
While not all individuals with ASD experience visual sensory sensitivities, and the severity and type of sensitivities can vary from person to person, light and visual sensory sensitivity is reported by up to 75% of individuals with ASD.1 Many of the visual sensory sensitivities reported by individuals with ASD, such as light sensitivity, perceptual distortions in the environment and on the printed page, and even issues with facial recognition can be improved with the use of individualized colored lenses that filter light and visual signals to the brain to reduced hyperactivity in the visual cortex and allow for improved visual processing.2-3
Well-known adults on the autism spectrum such as Temple Grandin and Donna Williams have described what the world can look like for someone with autism who experiences visual-perceptual processing difficulties. In her book, Nobody Nowhere, Donna Williams says, “Colors and things and people would fly, doors would get kicked in and sometimes faces would, too. But it was never whole people, only their pieces.” This is a glimpse into the often fragmented and frightening world in which many with ASD live.
Individuals with autism who also suffer from perceptual processing difficulties that may be helped by colored lenses may have difficulties with any of the following:
1) Sensory Overload caused by bright lights, fluorescent lights, and sunlight. Lighting is stressful; and this results in behaviors to filter out the light, poor eye contact, and physical symptoms such as anxiety or headaches.
2) Environmental Distortions where the individual sees the world in a distorted fashion. Objects are blurry, moving, changing, and can disappear. People may look frightening, stairs may look like a slide without steps, and walls and floors may swing and sway. Misperceptions can cause difficulties with sustained attention, eye contact, gross and small motor coordination, ability to interpret facial expressions, and poor social skills.
3) Print Distortions make learning or reading difficult. The individual may have good or even advanced reading skills but has trouble with reading comprehension or experiences strain and fatigue when reading or doing other activities. Tracking or building breaks into reading may be a problem.
For more information about colored lenses for individuals with visual sensory sensitivities and autism visit www.irlen.com.
- Raucci, U., Di Nardo, G., Evangelisti, M., Villa, M. P., & Parisi, P. (2021). Photosensitivity in Various Disease States. In The Importance of Photosensitivity for Epilepsy (pp. 139-150). Springer, Cham.
- Amanda K. Ludlow, Elaine Taylor-Whiffen, and Arnold J. Wilkins, “Coloured Filters Enhance the Visual Perception of Social Cues in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders,” ISRN Neurology, vol. 2012, Article ID 298098, 6 pages, 2012. doi:10.5402/2012/298098 (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3316948/)
- Ludlow, A. K., Giannadou, A., Franklin, A., Allen, P. M., Simmons, D. R., & Wilkins, A. J. (2020). The possible use of precision tinted lenses to improve social cognition in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Vision Research, 170, 53-59.