Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 44, Issue 9, pp 2369–2374 | Cite as

Brief Report: Visual Acuity in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

  • Matthew A. Albrecht
  • Geoffrey W. Stuart
  • Marita Falkmer
  • Anna Ordqvist
  • Denise Leung
  • Jonathan K. Foster
  • Torbjorn FalkmerEmail author
Brief Report


Recently, there has been heightened interest in suggestions of enhanced visual acuity in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) which was sparked by evidence that was later accepted to be methodologically flawed. However, a recent study that claimed children with ASD have enhanced visual acuity (Brosnan et al. in J Autism Dev Disord 42:2491–2497, 2012) repeated a critical methodological flaw by using an inappropriate viewing distance for a computerised acuity test, placing the findings in doubt. We examined visual acuity in 31 children with ASD and 33 controls using the 2 m 2000 Series Revised Early Treatment Diabetic Retinopathy Study chart placed at twice the conventional distance to better evaluate possible enhanced acuity. Children with ASD did not demonstrate superior acuity. The current findings strengthen the argument that reports of enhanced acuity in ASD are due to methodological flaws and challenges the reported association between visual acuity and systemising type behaviours.


Asperger syndrome Case control study ETDRS High functioning autism Perception Vision 



We want to express our gratitude to the participating children and their parents. We are also grateful for the help provided by the Telethon Institute of Child Health Research and The Autism Association Western Australia for their help in the recruitment process.


  1. Applegate, R. A. (2000). Limits to vision: Can we do better than nature? Journal of Refractive Surgery, 16, 547–551.Google Scholar
  2. Ashwin, E., Ashwin, C., Rhydderch, D., Howells, J., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2009). Eagle-eyed visual acuity: An experimental investigation of enhanced perception in autism. Biological Psychiatry, 65, 17–21.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bach, M. (1996). The Freiburg visual acuity test-automatic measurement of visual acuity. Optometry and Vision Science Official Publication of the American Academy of Optometry, 73, 49.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bach, M., & Dakin, S. C. (2009). Regarding “Eagle-Eyed visual acuity: An experimental investigation of enhanced perception in autism”. Biological Psychiatry, 66, e19–e20.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bölte, S., Schlitt, S., Gapp, V., Hainz, D., Schirman, S., Poustka, F., et al. (2012). A close eye on the eagle-eyed visual acuity hypothesis of autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42, 726–733.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brosnan, M. J., Gwilliam, L. R., & Walker, I. (2012). The relationship between visual acuity, the embedded figures test and systemizing in autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42, 2491–2497.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Couteur, A. L., Haden, G., Hammal, D., & McConachie, H. (2008). Diagnosing autism spectrum disorders in pre-school children using two standardised assessment instruments: The ADI-R and the ADOS. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38, 362–372.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Crewther, D. P., & Sutherland, A. (2009). The more he looked inside, the more piglet wasn’t there: Is autism really blessed with visual hyperacuity? Biological Psychiatry, 66, e21–e22.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dakin, S., & Frith, U. (2005). Vagaries of visual perception in autism. Neuron, 48, 497–507.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Falkmer, T., Anderson, K., Falkmer, M., & Horlin, C. (2013). Diagnostic procedures in autism spectrum disorders: a systematic literature review. European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 22, 329–340.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Falkmer, M., Stuart, G. W., Danielsson, H., Bram, S., Lönebrink, M., & Falkmer, T. (2011). Visual acuity in adults with asperger’s syndrome: No evidence for “eagle-eyed” vision. Biological Psychiatry, 70, 812–816.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Happé, F. (1999). Autism: Cognitive deficit or cognitive style? Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 3, 216–222.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Happé, F., & Frith, U. (2006). The weak coherence account: Detail-focused cognitive style in autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36, 5–25.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Jones, M. P., Pierce, K. E, Jr, & Ward, D. (2007). Avian vision: A review of form and function with special consideration to birds of prey. Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine, 16, 69–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kaiser, P. K. (2009). Prospective evaluation of visual acuity assessment: A comparison of snellen versus ETDRS charts in clinical practice (An AOS Thesis). Transactions of the American Ophthalmological Society, 107, 311–324.PubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Kéïta, L., Mottron, L., & Bertone, A. (2010). Far visual acuity is unremarkable in autism: Do we need to focus on crowding? Autism Research, 3, 333–341.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Koh, H., Milne, E., & Dobkins, K. (2010). Spatial contrast sensitivity in adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40, 978–987.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kruschke, J. K. (2013). Bayesian estimation supersedes the t test. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 142, 573–603.Google Scholar
  19. Lange, K. L., Little, R. J. A., & Taylor, J. M. G. (1989). Robust statistical modeling using the t distribution. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 84, 881–896.Google Scholar
  20. Milne, E., Griffiths, H., Buckley, D., & Scope, A. (2009). Vision in children and adolescents with autistic spectrum disorder: Evidence for reduced convergence. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39, 965–975.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Mottron, L., Dawson, M., Soulières, I., Hubert, B., & Burack, J. (2006). Enhanced perceptual functioning in autism: An update, and eight principles of autistic perception. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36, 27–43.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Plummer, M (2003) JAGS: A program for analysis of Bayesian graphical models using Gibbs sampling. In Proceedings of the 3rd international workshop on distributed statistical computing (DSC 2003). March, pp. 20–22. Accessed July 6, 2012.
  23. Plummer, M (2011) rjags: Bayesian graphical models using MCMC.
  24. Precision Vision (2011) Revised 2000 series ETDRS eye charts-for vision testing from 2 meters—precision vision. Accessed October 31, 2012.
  25. Reymond, L. (1985). Spatial visual acuity of the eagle Aquila audax: A behavioural, optical and anatomical investigation. Vision Research, 25, 1477–1491.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Scharre, J. E., & Creedon, M. P. (1992). Assessment of visual function in autistic children. Optometry and Vision Science Official Publication of the American Academy of Optometry, 69, 433.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Tavassoli, T., Latham, K., Bach, M., Dakin, S. C., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2011). Psychophysical measures of visual acuity in autism spectrum conditions. Vision Research, 51, 1778–1780.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. R Development Core Team (2012) R: A language and environment for statistical computing. Vienna, Austria: R Foundation for Statistical Computing.
  29. Woolfenden, S., Sarkozy, V., Ridley, G., & Williams, K. (2012). A systematic review of the diagnostic stability of autism spectrum disorder. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 6, 345–354.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthew A. Albrecht
    • 1
  • Geoffrey W. Stuart
    • 2
  • Marita Falkmer
    • 3
    • 4
  • Anna Ordqvist
    • 5
  • Denise Leung
    • 3
  • Jonathan K. Foster
    • 1
    • 6
  • Torbjorn Falkmer
    • 3
    • 5
    • 7
    Email author
  1. 1.School of Psychology and Speech Pathology, Curtin Health Innovation Research InstituteCurtin UniversityPerthAustralia
  2. 2.Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre, School of Psychological ScienceLa Trobe UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  3. 3.Faculty of Health Sciences, School of Occupational Therapy and Social Work, Curtin Health Innovation Research InstituteCurtin UniversityPerthAustralia
  4. 4.CHILD Programme, School of Education and Communication, Institute of Disability ResearchJönköping UniversityJonkopingSweden
  5. 5.Faculty of Health Sciences, Department of Medicine and Health Sciences (IMH), Rehabilitation MedicineLinköping University and Pain and Rehabilitation Centre, UHL, County CouncilLinkopingSweden
  6. 6.Neurosciences UnitHealth Department of WAPerthAustralia
  7. 7.School of Occupational TherapyLa Trobe UniversityMelbourneAustralia

Personalised recommendations