Autism Awareness…and a little extra eye care
This April, for Autism Awareness Month, we will highlight some specific tools and measures we use at WGECC to best evaluate for our autistic patients. We believe a thorough, personalized examination is a valuable investment of our time, and helpful to anyone impacted by autism–both the patients and the people who love and care for them.
Most eye exams require a certain level of communication between doctor and patient (“Better one? Better two?” “What are you seeing?” “Describe your concerns with your vision”). It’s helpful for a physician to understand what the person is experiencing and feeling. But what about patients who cannot always communicate what they’re feeling and thinking, like babies or foreign-speakers with a language barrier, or patients with autism? What are some nontraditional, creative ways of examination?
Two very special tools for special communication needs are retinoscopy and motility testing.
Retinoscopy offers objective information for visual acuity, glasses correction, prescription, etc. With a retinoscopy, a physician uses a retinoscope, which shines a light into the patient’s eye to reveal the reflex of the retina (the thin nerve layer at the very back of the eye). This gives the doctor factual data about the patient’s eye without the patient speaking at all! And when performed by a skilled physician, a retinoscopy can speak louder than words.
The second tool used in a nontraditional eye exam (like examining nonverbal infants!) is motility testing, which tracks eye motion.
In the photo above, Dr. Sussenbach uses a visual tool cleverly disguised as a common toy. As the lights and whirling motion capture the patient’s gaze, the doctor moves the in different directions–up, then down, then right, then left–tracking patterns of focus and eye movement. Photo credit: Dr. Sussenbach’s baby son was good-natured enough to model the motility test for us!
The autism spectrum varies widely, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to autistic eye exams. But the eyes may offer hope in finding commonalities across this wide spectrum, potentially aiding early diagnosis of autism and increased quality of life. A study last year by the University of California San Diego School of Medicine reports a possible use for “eye tracking” as a biomarker for autism. Next week, continuing our autism awareness theme, we’ll share a more in-depth overview of that study.