Autism and Visual Perception

Aspierations by Emma Dalmayne

Have you ever wondered why your child squints to look at things? Or tilts her head to an angle to look at something?

If a visit to the optician has ruled out any visual problems then it is more likely to do with the way they are processing the information being taken through the eyes and transmitted to the brain.

My daughter always has had a problem with things moving past her rapidly. In her pram she would squint and cry out, so much so that I got her little sunglasses. They gave her great relief and she wore them for car journeys too. Traveling on trains and buses prove very hard for her so she avoids looking out windows completely.

She will also tilt her head and squint to change her perception of it as a stim. She closes her eyes completely and turns her face straight to the sun to see the redness of it through her eye lids, giggling with delight.

When out walking, she often finds crossing from concrete to tarmac or earth to grass a scary experience. She will sink to the floor to ground herself. This is known as a shutdown which occurs due to an exaggerated input of sensory stimuli.

I see many similarities between her visual stims and mine—we both press on our eyes.

I have always done it to watch the kaleidoscope of colours that explode behind my eyelids. If I look at a light then shut my eyes it’s still there, like a visual echo resonating for up to ten seconds.

autism and visual perceptions

After taking her to the opticians he confirmed that she has light sensitivity and signs of a visual processing disorder.

After having my eyes tested we discovered I have Irlen syndrome. I was prescribed tints which for me stop the appearance of the ground shifting beneath me. Irlen affects how I take information in through my eyes. Bright lights—for example my iPad screen and phone—are turned down to the darkest they can go and they still cause me pain. Being out at night is excruciating as the car headlights put a lot of pressure on my eyes.

Things that others see easily I do not. I can be walking down the street and suddenly a bin will leap out from the side of me, a tree on the other side. I see more in 2D which makes me clumsy and misjudge distances and affects my spacial awareness. Going down stairs is done with caution as it also affects my depth perception. I will never drive as I cannot judge distance. To me the car ends at the windscreen, I cannot judge nor estimate how far the bonnet comes out.

I also find reading off a coloured piece of paper or coloured screen much easier.

Scrolling up and down on my iPad or phone can cause me sensory overload which feels like the rooms spinning around me. It’s very painful and nauseating.

If any of these things sound familiar, get a test as it could be Irlen.

That said, I know no other way of seeing I would not want to change it. When I see a colour, I really see it! Vividly! If I close my eyes it’s still there for me to bask in and the kaleidoscope effects are beautifully soothing.

Mixed with my Synesthesia (which in me manifests as seeing sounds as colours) it makes for an extravaganza of visions that I can stim off joyfully for as long as I like.

Now that’s a gift.



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About Jodi Murphy

I am the founder of Geek Club Books, autism storytelling through mobile apps for awareness, acceptance and understanding. My mission is to use the art of storytelling and technology to entertain and educate for the social good. I am a 'positive' autism advocate, mother of an awesome adult on the autism spectrum, lifestyle journalist, and marketing specialist.

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