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How Would I Know If My Nonverbal Child Needs a Vision Evaluation? by Larah Alami, OD FAAO

Updated on July 11, 2017

One of the easiest and most immediate changes that can be seen with ambient prism lenses is watching toe-walking children suddenly demonstrate an instinctive ability to walk flat–footed. Doctors and parents alike notice a big difference just by watching the child walking throughout the testing area. We have many success stories of improvements in all sorts of areas such as toe-walking, stimming, grazing the walls, tantrums, increased expressive language, reading comprehension, and much more!

What are some of the most common visual problems in autistic spectrum populations?

A large number of spectrum children have a developmental history of delays in spatial orientation and spatial organization. Spatial orientation disorders are delays in processing information concerning posture, balance, and bodily movements. A child with such delays in orientation will often overcompensate with excessive body movements to know ‘where’ they are in space. This causes them to over focus on self, interfering with information processing of spatial information, which can result in anxiety and reduced processing skills and time.

Spatial organization, however, is one’s ability to organize information between self and their environment; this includes objects related to other objects and space and to self simultaneously.

As a result of spatial organization deficits, we frequently see issues with the eyes working together or focusing appropriately. Deficient binocular skills very often result in discomfort of the eyes, headaches, double or blurred vision, or fatigue. The excess effort expended in coordinating the eyes may interfere with the ability to make eye contact. This is one reason we see a high prevalence of ‘peripheral’ side viewing, flapping one’s hands in front of their eyes, or even pulling or pushing one’s lids.

Accommodative, or focusing skills refer to one's ability to focus clearly on near objects as well as to sustain this focus for an extended period of time. Deficient accommodative skills may result in rapid fatigue, or difficulty in shifting between persons or objects near and far.

After analyzing data from 100 cases evaluated by our office, including verbal and nonverbal spectrum cases, 36 individuals demonstrated convergence insufficiency (a problem with the two eyes coming in and remaining focused up close); 6 individuals demonstrated convergence excess (the eyes staying in too long and having trouble focusing outward). 28 individuals demonstrated exotropia, which is an eye turn outward and 13 showed esotropia, an eye turning inward). The remaining 17 received no diagnosis. So to summarize, 83 of the 100 individuals examined were found to have a visual anomaly inhibiting proper development or learning.

What are the signs? How can a parent suspect their child should have a vision examination?

Does this consider verbal and nonverbal populations?

Whether your child is verbal or has limited language there are many signs that could indicate a vision issue is warranted. It could be something as simple as excessive blinking, squinting, or frequently closing one eye. Or it could be something more complex. For example, observations of peripheral viewing, also referred to as “side viewing” might be something a parent or teacher might notice. Peripheral viewing tendencies arise when misinformation of visual stimulus is present and can often be a mechanism to suppress double vision. Or, there might be issues of balance and transport, such as postural warps, toe-walking, grazing of walls while walking and challenges with steps and stairs. In our model, this is a delay in the question of “where am I in space?” Oral impulses, such as placement of hand and other objects in the mouth, are also common in spectrum individuals with visual and proprioceptive delays.

According to the American Optometric Association, all children should receive examinations at 6 months, 3 years and again before the first grade. This recommendation is urged even when children may appear asymptomatic. While we expect all children to receive thorough evaluations at these milestones, we especially warrant parents whose children are symptomatic or are nonverbal/have limited communication skills to follow this trajectory, since they are unable to communicate blurry or disordered vision to their caretakers.

What is involved in the examination process?

At The Center for Visual Management, our examination is comprised of a few simple pre-tests if the child is able to undergo these tests. The doctor then splits the evaluations into two parts. First, we attempt a comprehensive eye exam in a traditional exam room. We discuss the child's history, and then attempt to check visual acuity, refractive status, eye turns or any muscular abnormalities, depth perception, binocularity, and eye health. While child participation is ideal for collecting visual status information, it's not necessary for the doctor to determine certain aspects of the exam, such as eye turn or refractive status. There are other very successful ways of extrapolating this information.

Next, we will all move to a larger, more open area that is designed much like a room you might see at a physical or occupational therapy office. There we complete a sensorimotor examination comprised of several activities. The Kaplan Nonverbal Battery was designed by our center’s founder, Dr. Melvin Kaplan years ago, and requires pre-prism lens and post-prism lens responses to specific tasks of visual attention, posture and disposition. By observing the child and allowing them to move through these tasks, simulating real-life day to day activities, we will be looking for increases in eye contact and conjugate eye movements, improved attention and interest in surroundings, more relaxed attention in visual-vestibular and visual-motor tasks, and any significant improvement in depth perception.

Preparing your child for an appointment

In preparing your child for an appointment with our office, we offer the following advice:

· If your child is tactile defensive, we first suggest going to a dollar store and buying a cheap pair of children's sunglasses. Pop out the lenses and for a few minutes each day leading up to the appointment, try having your child practice wearing the glasses at home. By becoming better acclimated to the feel of the frame on their face, the evaluation process can sometimes go more smoothly in the office.

· We also encourage you to share as much information about the doctors and our office as you can with your child. Explain to them that in addition to having their eyes checked, there will be other fun activities, involving televisions, balance boards, balloons, balls, slinky’s, puzzles, etc. Therapeutic glasses will be used to see if we can improve performance based tasks, like balancing on one foot or catching ball. Definitely let your child know that he or she will not be receiving any shots in our office! It is for the child's comfort that we also choose not to wear white coats in the office, and there is no noise or heavy fragrances in the office either.

· A video tour of our facility is available on some of our social media pages, including Facebook and YouTube. Having a sense of our facility and how non-threatening it is also very helpful to children. You can find our CVM video tour here:

· Most importantly, if you or your child have any specific concerns, please do not hesitate to contact our office. We make every attempt at accommodating each individual's needs.


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