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Aim

This study examined the utility of standard autism diagnostic measures in nine children (aged 5–9y) with severe vision impairment and a range of social and language functioning.

Method

The Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) and the Autism Diagnostic Interview, Revised (ADI-R) were systematically modified and used to assess symptoms of autism in children with vision less than or equal to 20/800, the majority of whom had optic nerve hypoplasia. The results of the assessments, including analysis of symptom patterns, were compared with expert autism diagnoses.

Results

Modified autism measures demonstrated good agreement with clinical diagnoses. Symptoms found to be most and least reliable in discriminating autism from behaviors common to most children with congenital vision impairment are described. Comparisons of current behavior with parent-reported behaviors from a younger age suggested that some symptoms of autism in very young children who are congenitally blind may improve with age.

Interpretation

The ADOS and ADI-R are useful for clinical assessment and for advancing research efforts to understand autism symptoms in children with vision impairment. However, some autistic symptoms in very young children may change over time, and developmental changes should be closely monitored.