Let’s re-visit Christian, the young fellow we met in Part 1. Our premise, based on extensive clincial experience with patients who are on the autistic spectrum, is that traditional notions of how central and peripheral vision interact may need re-vision. The fact that children with ASD operative peripherally, with seemingly fleeting glances, reinforces that one of the least effective prompts for gaining central attention is “look at me”.
In The Way Things Look To Me novelist Roopa Farooki relates how things look through the eyes and minds of three siblings, the middle of whom is not neurotypical. She has a photographic memory of sorts, and as much as behavioral/developmental optometrists pride ourselves in understanding how the eye is not like a camera, perhaps we have to re-think the way things look to individuals on the spectrum and in turn, how this influences their looking behavior.
It has been reported that children with ASD have larger than normal pupils in resting state, and this is a potential early biomarker that their autonomic nervous system is on overdrive or in hyper-arousal. It has also been reported that the pupillary light reflex is atypical in children with ASD including significantly longer latency, reduced relative constriction amplitude, and shorter constriction/redilation time as compared to a neurotypical cohort.
But what Christian may be communicating is that we might understand alternate pupillary states and responses in ASD as something purposeful, more suited to their individual visual system psychophysics. If our theory is correct, children like Christian have a faster than “normal” shutter speed, and operate with fleeting glances, then their intake during visual search can really be modeled more like a camera than we’ve been thinking. In other words, the faster your shutter speed the wider your aperture – i.e. fleeting glances and fast snapshots would be associated with larger pupil sizes.
Paradoxically the idea of modeling ASD visual behaviors more like a camera or robotic system than a neurotypically human visual system doesn’t lessen the onus on visual assessment and intervention. It increases it. A pleasant by-product of this might be that understanding the communication channels of individuals with ASD might be able to inform the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) as much as the inverse. Or perhaps AI can be better conceived as alternate intelligence. In any event, professionals like Lisa (who we met in Part 1) can help children like Christian communicate to us how and why they look at things the way they do. In turn, we can communicate to them how lenses, prisms, and vision therapy influences the balance between central and peripheral processing. After all, every good camera system relies more heavily on auxiliary lenses and filters interfacing with aperture and shutter speed combos as the photographer becomes more sophisticated.