Children with autism are no different than other children when it comes to the possibility of needing to get glasses.
Many parents are aware of the possible behaviors associated with autism and their own children.
Such behaviors as: poor eye contact, side viewing, photosensitivity, or even hand flapping are often viewed as part of having autism.
However, these same behavior-like qualities can also be an indication your child needs to have his/her eyes examined or possibly needs glasses.
Some children with autism experience tremendous anxiety when it comes time to go and see an ophthalmologist.
There are steps parents can take to try and reduce some of the stress associated with getting an eye exam for their child with autism.
1. The Qualifications of the Ophthalmologist/Pediatric Optometrist
Check around in your area and see if there is a qualified eye professional with experience working with children with autism. If so, you are extremely fortunate and that is probably where you should take your child. However, if that is not the case, it may fall to you to assist with educating the eye professional on how to best approach your child during the exam.
Remember, you are your child’s best advocate unless he/she is old enough to begin advocating for himself/herself. Simply telling the eye doctor your child has autism is NOT enough. You need to explain to your doctor what having autism “means” for your child.
Keep in mind that all children with autism are different. Bring the child’s medical history with you. Are there other members of the family who wear glasses? Has the child’s teacher noticed anything in the classroom such as squinting or wanting to sit close to the board? Has your child been complaining about having headaches when he/she reads? Are there any active eye diseases in the family? Is your child taking any current medications?
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Your child with autism may need additional time to process questions being asked of them. Remind the eye doctor it may be better to wait after asking your child a question than to repeat the question several times. All of this kind of information will assist your doctor in helping your child with autism better.
2. Several Visits
Your child with autism may not be able to tolerate a full eye exam in one sitting. He/She may need a couple of appointments to become comfortable. This will be especially true if he/she has never met the ophthalmologist before and doesn’t like being touched. Visiting the ophthalmologist and his/her office a couple of times may assist with reducing some of his/her anxiety or fear.
3. Bring a Preferred Item
Don’t assume there will be toys or books of interest for your child at the eye doctor’s office. It would be better for you to allow your child to bring a preferred item with him/her during his/her exam. This may be a favorite stuffed animal, doll, book, iPad or even a food snack.
4. The Dark Room
The dark room or when the lights are turned off may frighten a child with autism. Giving him/her additional time to transition to the dark room would assist. Indicate to the doctor that counting from one to five before turning off the lights may assist your child. Some children with autism do better with this transitioning if he/she is the one allowed to turn the light switch off.
5. Talk, Talk, Talk
Some children with autism who are anxious or worried may become hyperlexic. They may begin talking constantly as a means of attempting to deal or cope with their stress level. They may fixate on certain topics only and if you prepare the eye doctor for this he/she can distract the child during the exam by engaging in the conversation with him/her while still performing the exam.
Some children with autism may want constant assurance during the eye exam. Remind the doctor this is just a copying mechanism for your child to remain calm. For example: he/she may constantly want to know if his/her answers are correct when asked to identify letters on the Snellen Chart. Your child may have a repertoire of subjects he/she really enjoys discussing. If this is the case, let the eye doctor know ahead of time so he/she can actively engage your child during the eye exam.
6. Will It Hurt?
Many children associate doctors with “needles.” Talking to your child ahead of time or using a social story can assist your child with understanding the eye doctor will not be using any needles during their visit. This would be a great time to explain a bright light may be flashed in the child’s eyes.
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Social Stories for autistic children
You`ll also need to explain that the doctor may put drops in his/her eye but that nothing hurts. He/She may also need to be told he/she will be wearing a very cool pair of dark lens (sunglasses) for an hour or two after the eye exam.
7. Stay With Your Child
You need to stay with your child during the entire eye exam. This is not a situation where you can drop your child off at the eye doctor’s office and come back at a later time to pick him/her up. Fortunately, most parents seem to understand the importance of this. Your physical presence will bring a lot of comfort to your own child.
Speaking in a calm and positive manner will reassure him/her that you are there to protect and assist them. You can also be explaining things to your child as the doctor continues to do the eye exam. Sometimes all it takes to calm your child is holding his/her hand while the doctor applies drops to his/her eyes.
During the exam if your child is showing signs of heightening or becoming anxious, ssk the doctor to demonstrate the procedure on you first and allow your child to watch. Your child may require a “break” during the exam in order to complete the full examination.
Some children with autism may need an incentive in order to survive the eye exam. Encouraging your child to sit still and follow the directions of the eye doctor will be important. Children with autism can be rewarded for successfully completing the eye exam with an outing to get ice cream after the exam, extra computer time at home that evening, or even receiving extra story time at bedtime that night.
9. Watch a Video
Parents can now go online and pull up videos that showcase children going and having their eyes examined. Parents can watch these videos with their children and openly and honestly answer any questions their child with autism may have. They can point out the equipment that may be used and why the doctor is doing what he/she is doing. Parents can also share their own experiences with going to have their eyes examined.
10. Use a Visual Story
A Visual Story is a great way to assist your child with being prepared for visiting with the eye doctor. A simple Visual Story can be developed at home and reviewed with your child every day prior to going to the actual eye appointment. Take a look at the sample Visual Story that has been attached.
Visual Stories are a great way to reduce the anxiety or fear your child may be experiencing as well as to assist him/her with generalizing his/her new coping skills from your home to the doctor`s office.
MY VISIT TO THE EYE DOCTOR
I have to squint to see the board
Sometimes I get headaches when trying to play my video games
Mom and Dad wear glasses and said I need to go see the eye doctor
I’m worried about going to the doctor’s office
Mom says to not worry. Dad says there are no needles
When I go to the eye doctor’s office, Mom said I can bring my favorite toys with me
I will sit in a big chair and my Mom will sit in the room with me
The eye doctor is very nice to me
The eye doctor lets me turn the lights off in the room when looking at my eyes
Sometimes my eye doctor shines a bright light in my eyes or puts a machine close to my face. It doesn’t hurt
Sometimes my eye doctor puts drops in my eyes. It doesn’t hurt
When the exam is over, I will know if I need glasses or not
After the exam, Mom and Dad said I can have extra computer time at home to play a video
The eye doctor is my friend
This article was featured in Issue 100 – Best Tools And Strategies For Autism