• Autistic disorder;
  • visual handicap;
  • congenital blindness

Background:  Atypical forms of autism may yield insights into the development and nature of the syndrome.

Methods:  We conducted a follow-up study of nine congenitally blind and seven sighted children who, eight years earlier, had satisfied formal diagnostic criteria for autism and had been included in groups matched for chronological age and verbal ability. In keeping with the original study, we met with teachers to discuss a DSM-based checklist of clinical features of autism, and conducted direct observations of the children to complete assessments on the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS; Schopler, Reichler, and Renner, 1986) and the Behavior Checklist for Disordered Preschoolers (BCDP; Sherman, Shapiro, & Glassman, 1983).

Results:  As predicted, a substantially higher proportion of blind (eight out of nine) than sighted (none out of seven) children now failed to meet formal DSM criteria for autism, and in keeping with BCDP ratings, they had significantly lower CARS scores.

Conclusions:  Follow-up of nine congenitally blind children with autism revealed that, in adolescence, only one still satisfied diagnostic criteria for the syndrome. We consider the implications for theoretical perspectives on the development of autism.