Autism Spectrum Disorders or Asperger's Syndrome in Children Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

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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 affect each child in a unique way. Children with such a disorder may have a mild or severe condition, and they can range in their functioning 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 his visual impairment as being an indicator that he has an autism spectrum disorder. For example, some visually impaired children 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 that of some children with autism spectrum disorders, it has a different cause.

In addition, children with visual impairments 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 as well, it can be difficult to determine if a child who has a visual impairment 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 visual impairment.

Tele-Support Group for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Visual Impairment

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 as well as low vision or blindness so that you can share resources, experiences, strength, and hope. The tele-support groups meet by phone every week 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 or write to parentgroups@lighthouseguild.org.

Additional Resources for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Visual Impairment

Multiple Disabilities: When a Blind Child Has Other Disabilities

The Future Starts Now: Discovering the Possibilities for Your Multiply Disabled Child

Autism Spectrum Disorders and Visual Impairment: Meeting Students' Learning Needs by Marilyn H. Gense and D. Jay Gense

Could My Visually Impaired Child Be on the Autism Spectrum?

Employment Implications for Autism Spectrum Disorder and Visual Impairments

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