- Professor, Department of Occupational Therapy
- Director, Jefferson Autism Center of Excellence
- Professor, Farber Institute for Neurosciences
130 South 9th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Training Ophthalmology & Other Medical Professionals to Assess Vision in Persons with Autism
Detailed assessment of vision in children with Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is both critical and challenging. It is estimated that over 70% of those with ASD have sensory symptoms that impact their ability to participate in everyday activities. Standardized, performance-based assessment of these sensory functions is lacking, with clinicians often relying on parent or proxy reports solely, which may be inadequate to determine the extent and nature of sensory difficulties and their impact on performance and function (Chang et al., 2016; Schaaf & Lane, 2015). Clinicians are not trained to manage the behavioral and sensory challenges that often accompany assessment interactions with individuals with Autism, nor are they trained to conduct salient, useful sensory assessments and to utilize assessment findings to recommend treatments (Oza, Marco, & Frieden, 2015). They require additional training to manage the complex behaviors and associated sensory symptoms that often accompany Autism. This project will train clinicians (physicians and occupational therapists) with the needed skills and knowledge to specifically provide vision assessment as well as assessment of other sensory functions to the Autism community in the greater Philadelphia area and then extend it to other clinical sites. A project of this type, by its nature, requires true team science as the principles integrate knowledge from three core specialties: ophthalmology, occupational therapy, and neurology.
Under the direction of Dr. Alex Levin, Chief of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Ocular Genetics at Wills Eye Hospital, one of the top eye institutes in the country, the program will train 10 – 12 ophthalmology residents and fellows each year with the skills needed to provide an appropriate visual assessment to individuals with ASD including ocular health, visual acuity, and ocular genetics and recommend treatments for these. Recognition of key diagnostic indicators via eye health and genetics, may help unravel the etiology of a child’s Autism. For example, residents will be trained to recognize Lisch nodules of the iris, which are a clinical sign of neurofibromatosis (NF1), an under-recognized etiology of AUTISM.