According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 68 American children has autism spectrum disorder. Children with autism often struggle to cope with situations and experiences that other kids may find relatively easy, and eyeglasses commonly cause problems for people with ASD. Find out why eyeglasses may cause problems for your autistic child, and find out what you can do to help children cope.
How autism affects children
Autism is a developmental disorder that affects people for life. Doctors cannot cure autism spectrum disorder, so parents and carers must learn how to make adjustments that allow children (and adults) to cope with the challenges they face.
Children with autism often demonstrate behavioral issues. It isn't always easy to diagnose the problem in very young children, but kids over the age of two often show similar signs. Autistic behaviors include:
- Communication difficulties
- Repetitive behaviors and fixation on certain objects
- Unusual sensory issues
Some autistic children are hypersensitive. These children can react quickly to very minor changes in their environment. Conversely, some children are hyposensitive, which means they rarely react to anything, even if a sensation is painful or dangerous. Both these behaviors can cause problems when it comes to wearing eyeglasses.
Autistic children and eyeglasses
While somebody without autism can often easily adjust to wearing eyeglasses, kids with ASD will sometimes find the experience difficult to cope with. Autistic children may dislike the feeling of eyeglasses on their face and ears, and hypersensitive children may scream or react aggressively as soon as somebody places anything near them. This type of behavior also makes it difficult for an optician to effectively carry out eye tests.
Autistic children can also easily fixate on their new eyeglasses. They may repeatedly fiddle with the rims or damage the spectacles by exerting too much force. The problem is sometimes worse if you or another family member wears spectacles, as an autistic child can also fixate on somebody else's eyeglasses.
To make matters worse, studies suggest that autistic children are often more likely to benefit from eyeglasses. For example, autistic children sometimes suffer from a condition called scotopic sensitivity, where brightness and glare can make it harder to concentrate and read. For these children, tinted eyeglasses can often help counter the issue, but the spectacles may then cause a separate behavioral issue.
Steps parents can take
Autistic children don't generally respond well to sudden changes. What's more, any experience that involves intimate contact with a stranger (like an eye test) can cause serious anxiety. As such, parents should take steps to help children gradually cope with this life change.
Look for an optometrist who has experience of working with autistic clients. A local autism support group can often give you the details of an expert in your area. An experienced optometrist can slowly help your child adjust to the experience of an eye test over several appointments. Some optometrists even adapt their offices to help autistic children cope with the experience.
Once prescribed, it may take your son or daughter weeks or months to adjust to new eyeglasses. Experts often suggest that you start with a cheap or old pair of glasses and take the lenses out. This set of prototype spectacles can help your child slowly adjust to handling the eyeglasses, but you should try to make a practice pair of eyeglasses as close to the finished product as possible.
Sensory rewards often work well with autistic children. Reward your child in some way when he or she successfully puts on or takes off new eyeglasses, and slowly increase the time he or she spends wearing the spectacles before you reward good behavior.
It's also a good idea to share story books that feature characters with new eyeglasses with autistic children. These visual storytelling aids can help your child better understand the experience, and a reading session is a great opportunity for you to answer questions about what your son or daughter can see.
Autistic children often find it difficult to regularly wear eyeglasses. Parents and carers must often take special steps to help children cope with the experience, but with the right coaching and support, you can help your child adjust.