BENGALURU: Sunday marks World Autism Awareness Day and world estimates put the prevalence of this condition at 17 out of every 10,000 children.
While parents prioritise occupational therapy to correct verbal and non-verbal deficits, vision therapy for children with eye defects has a positive bearing on overall development, say doctors at Shankara Eye Hospital.
“We’ve been handling a large number of children with autism. What we realised was that 30 per cent children suffered from eye-related defects. From refractive error, squint to binocular vision problems, where essentially the child is not able to use both eyes in coordination, there were a range of conditions,” said Dr Kaushik Murali, paediatric ophthalmologist, Shankara Eye Hospital.
The hospital will inaugurate its Vision and Perceptual Therapy Clinic for Autism on Monday. The hospital at Marathahalli has over 130 children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Eye check-up is low on the priority list of parents taking care of children with autism spectrum. Among the children the hospital has been treating, they observed that once there is intervention in eye-related problems, their ability to handle other forms of therapy increased.
“While doing vision therapy, we found that these children had significant issues in terms of their hand-eye coordination and perceptual ability. They need special attention. Simple things like ambience, sound, number of people who are around matter,” Dr Kaushik Murali said.
Rather than putting the children with other patients at the hospital, a standalone centre was set up. “We combined computer-based vision therapy, vision integrator and other devices based on recent research where we can work on hand-eye coordination and perception anomalies also. Eye hospitals don’t have such facilities generally,” he said.
“One of our postgraduate students has taken up this subject as a thesis topic. There is very little data on prevalence of autism in India. We did our own research and presented it at the All India Ophthalmic Conference in 2013 at which point we had around 87 children. 30 per cent of children had eye problems,” Murali said.
“Handling children with behavioural challenges needs time and patience. A team of optometrists who have received training and orientation will be treating the children,” the doctor said.
The centre has been set up with the support of Surya, a volunteer initiative founded in 2004 to support eye care activities of Shankara Eye Foundation.