Stimming Behaviors in Visually Impaired Kids

Children’s vision develops in stages. If something goes wrong in one stage of a child’s vision development, it can affect other areas of learning and development. The National Association for Child Development reports that many of the problems children with developmental delays have is because their central vision hasn’t developed the way it should. Because of problems with visual function, children with autism and other visual delays might rely on self-stimulating behaviors known as stimming 2.

Visual Stimulation

AskDrSears points out that children need visual stimulation for their brains to develop 1. Infants develop peripheral vision first, followed by their macular, or central vision. Sensory input causes nerve cells in the brain to form connections with other nerve cells. This continuous visual input to the eyes is what develops the visual center in the brain. Sensory deprivations, particularly the lack of visual stimulation, interfere with a baby’s brain development. According to the National Association for Child Development, vision dysfunction -- including undeveloped central vision -- is common in many children with autism spectrum disorders, some of whom are unable to process visual and auditory information at the same.

Visual Dysfunction

Developmentally delayed or visually impaired children might engage in stimming behaviors to compensate for undeveloped vision or other problems with vision function. Stimming behaviors send messages that stimulate the senses and are common in children with autism spectrum disorders. Autistic children who have problems with visual function often engage in repetitive behaviors that continue to strengthen their peripheral vision while their central vision fails to develop normally, according to the NACD.

Visual Stimming Behaviors

The North Shore Pediatric Therapy website lists visual stimming behaviors such as hand-flapping, staring at lights or ceiling fans and repetitive blinking as common stereotypical behaviors children with autism rely on to stimulate the senses 3. Some children use stimming behaviors such as looking out of the corners of their eyes, moving their fingers in front of their eyes, staring at an object or watching it spin. Stimming behaviors help to stimulate the brain, particularly for a child who needs more sensory input.

Reasons for Stimming Behaviors

Stereotypical behaviors generally associated with autism include not making eye contact or looking from the side of the eye. Stimming is another common characteristic of autism that is often related to vision problems. Whatever form stimming takes, a child has a reason for engaging in the behavior. Dr. Melvin Kaplan, an expert in the field of visual management training, points out at that an autistic individual might flick her fingers in front of her eyes or rock back and forth to create depth perception 2. Similarly, rocking from side to side can be a sign that a child has trouble paying visual attention.