The Vision Component of Sensory Integration



Having taken time off in 2016 to pursue other ventures, it is re-energizing to review and prepare new material for a seminar regarding the totality of vision.  I’ll be re-booting the seminar on visual processing and therapy on Clearwater Beach on March 6, and on March 13 in Tampa (that one as a live webcast as well).  The seminars are oriented primarily toward OTs, PTs, SLPs, and Educators, and my renewed focus will be on vision within the context of sensory integration.  This draws the most attention related to children on the Autistic Spectrum, and  Patty Lemer’s material has been influential in this regard.

As you know from reading this blog, I’m particularly drawn to advocacy on behalf of our services by notable non-optometric authors such as Sue Barry, Lindsey Biel, Katie Johnson, Fernette and Brock Eide, Robin and Jillian Benoit and Wendy Rosen.  Of course I’m fond of citing optometric authors such as Stan Appelbaum, Laurie Chaikin, and Lynn Hellerstein regarding vision and sensory integration as well, but what makes non-optometric authors appealing as well is that they have no vested interest in promoting the role of optometric intervention.  In that regard what they have to say is particularly resonant to much of the audience attending these PESI seminars.


I’ll be resurrecting a nice resource you can add to your list of non-optometric advocates for our therapeutic services co-authored by Ellen Notbohm and Veronica Zysk.  Ellen is the mother of two children on the Autistic Spectrum, and Veronica is former ED of the Autism Society of America and former Managing Editor of  Autism Asperger’s Digest.


The first 55 pages of the book are devoted to sensory integration and, on pages 29 and 30 you’ll find the following under Vision and seeing:

“What do toe walking, headaches, poor handwriting, and weak organizational skills have in common?  They’re all signs of a visual processing problem in a child.  Just as communication involves more than words, vision is more than 20/20 eyesight.  Vision is the learned developmental process of giving meaning to what we see, and it emerges from the integration of sensory input from the eyes and and the body to the brain.  Vision is conceptual and perceptual, and through it we learn to attend to, organize, and understand our world (Lemer 2009).

It is common in individuals on the autism spectrum that vision – not eyesight – is impaired, sometimes in multiple ways.  Warning signs of visual dysfunction include:

  • Has difficulty  making eye contact
  • Tilts head when observing closely
  • Squints, closes an eye, covers one eye or widens eyes
  • Experiences headaches, nausea, and/or dizziness
  • Moves head and/or body or uses finger to track words while reading
  • Frequently loses his place while reading, or can’t find items in his desk, locker, or backpack
  • Is fascinated by lights, spinning objects, shadows, or patterns
  • Looks through hands
  • Flaps hands, flicks objects in front of eyes
  • Looks at objects sideways, closely, or with quick glances
  • Becomes confused at changes in flooring or stairways
  • Toe walks
  • Is excessively clumsy
  • Pushes or rubs eyes repeatedly
  • Bumps into objects or touches walls while moving through space
  • Cannot spot errors in own work; does not notice details in general
  • Has messy or poor handwriting; colors outside boundary lines
  • Has trouble copying material from the chalkboard

If you suspect your child may have visual issues, find a developmental optometrist (enter your zip code at or for referrals) and ask for a thorough vision assessment.  These organizations certify and educate optometrists to work with individuals on the autism spectrum.”


6 thoughts on “The Vision Component of Sensory Integration

  1. Thanks for this – I wish there were better and more widespread understanding of visual integration in the UK. I fought hard for one of my students with these issues a couple of years ago and couldn’t get any help. His paediatrician didn’t want to know, even blocked my attempts to refer for OT, and the eye hospital would only focus on visual health.

  2. Hi Lennie, any chance you could also interview Julie Stoots, daughter and now director of the Sensory Institute in Boulder, CO? Her mother, Mary Bolles, created the Sensory Learning Program to simultaneously stimulate three sensory channels, the vestibular, visual, and auditory in a gentle manner to help sensory integration occur such that other therapies are more effective because the individual is more integrated and less prone to becoming overwhelmed. Julie’s contact info is: or (303) 652-0588. I recently added this program to my practice and have been highly impressed thus far!

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