Light Sensitivity

Autism Light Sensitivity: Causes, Symptoms, Solution

Autism Light Sensitivity: Causes, Symptoms, Solution

Autism light sensitivity is a very real thing. In this article, we’ll take a look at why this is the case and what can be done about it.

It’s well known in relevant circles that people who are on the autism spectrum often process sensory information differently than the average person. This often includes how they experience visual stimuli. Even in the same room with the same visual exposure, someone with autism could have a vastly different experience from someone without autism. One of the most common differences is light sensitivity.

Autism Light Sensitivity Is Well Documented

Studies have revealed the existence of autism light sensitivity. One study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found that adolescents on the autism spectrum have visual processing anomalies that include light sensitivity.

Other research has found that increased light sensitivity correlates with an increase in autistic traits.

Person hiding their eyes due to light sensitivity

Why Those With Autism Spectrum Disorder May Have Light Sensitivity

Studies have shown that people with autism experience hypersensitivity to bright lights, but why? Researchers have hypothesized that this could be because of sensory overload, impaired pupillary light reflex, or differences in the central nervous system.

Sensory Overload

As mentioned above, sensory processing difficulties are common in people with autism. So it makes sense that overloading their senses might make an environment tough on them.

When you add bright light to an environment that already has a lot of stimuli, it can be disorienting. Intense light, especially blue light, fluorescent lighting, or strong glare can reduce the brain’s capacity to process all that information. Light may not be the direct trigger for this reduced processing capacity. But could be a complicating factor which enhances other stressors present in the environment.

Sensory overload may contribute to autism light sensitivity

Pupillary Light Reflex

How pupils react to light plays a role in light sensitivity. The theory for those with autism is that they may have an impairment in how the pupil responds to light, making them extra sensitive.

The human eye contains retinal ganglion cells. These photosensitive cells play a major role in pupillary light reflex. These cells have been studied for their relationship to migraine-related photophobia. The suggestion is that malfunction in these cells causes autistic individuals to react similarly to light as people with migraine.

Central Nervous System Differences

It is understood that people with autism may not tolerate sound, touch, and visual input as well as other people. This is due to structural differences in their central nervous systems.

Evidence suggests that these difference create a lower tolerance and decreased neurological threshold for stimuli, including light. This likely plays a role in the visual experience and light sensitivity of those on the autism spectrum.

Autism Light Sensitivity: Common Signs and Symptoms

Whether in autistic children or adults, autism light sensitivity in can reveal itself in a number of physical ways, including:

  • Excessive blinking
  • Tearing
  • Discomfort
  • Light-triggered headaches or migraines
  • Low tolerance for fluorescent light
  • Inability to watch television or look at other digital screens for very long
  • Behaviors that indicate the desire to avoid light
    • Shielding of eyes
    • Keeping eyes closed
    • Wearing sunglasses indoors (learn why this is a bad idea here)
    • Turning the lights off
  • Seeing afterimages – visual illusions caused by retinal impressions persisting after exposure to a given visual stimulus is over (i.e. seeing spots of light after a camera flash)
  • Seeing visual snow – a continuous visual disturbance of tiny flickering dots in the entire field of vision (like the static of a bad channel on an analog television)
  • Elevated anxiety level, which may lead to complications in social and educational outcomes
Visual snow is a symptom of autism light sensitivity

How to Ease Autism Light Sensitivity

When it comes to mitigating the effects of autism light sensitivity, the simplest methods might be best. These coping strategies are easy, and may be used by anyone with light sensitivity. But don’t let the simplicity fool you; they can have a significant impact on comfort level.

  • Wear light sensitivity glasses. In fact, 84% of Axon Optics customers say our glasses reduce their symptoms of photophobia. The precision tint of the Avulux® Migraine and Light Sensitivity Lens in our eyewear blocks more of the spectrum of light most likely to trigger discomfort.
  • Replace fluorescent or LED lighting in the home, office, or other important environments with
    incandescent lighting
  • Allow more natural light to reduce dependency on artificial light
  • Protect the eyes against sunshine when outdoors
  • Wear hats or sun visors when overhead fluorescent lights cannot be changed or avoided
  • Remove unnecessary visual stimulation from the environment
  • Increase light exposure slowly: Begin with dim lighting and increase the brightness in small increments over time
  • Take frequent breaks from screens. Consider a version of the 20-20-20 rule.

Powered by Avulux lens technology, Axon Optics light sensitivity glasses are totally non-invasive, easy to carry, and very effective. Unlike pharmaceuticals, there are no side effects or potential drug interactions with other medications. Try them for autism light sensitivity. If they aren’t effective in your case, take advantage of our 60-day return policy.

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Howe FEJ, Stagg SD. How Sensory Experiences Affect Adolescents with an Autistic Spectrum Condition within the Classroom. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 2016;46:1656-1668. doi:10.1007/s10803-015-2693-1.

Sperandio I, Unwin KL, Landry O, Chouinard PA. Size Constancy is Preserved but Afterimages are Prolonged in Typical Individuals with Higher Degrees of Self-Reported Autistic Traits. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 2017;47(2):447-459. doi:10.1007/s10803-016-2971-6.

deVann G, Beijers R, Vervloed MPJ, Knoors H, Bloeming-Wolbrink KA, deWeerth C, Verhoeven L. Front. Educ., 30 October 2020 |

La Morgia C, Carelli V, Carbonelli M. Front. Neurol., 07 December 2018 |

Coulter RA. Understanding the visual symptoms of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Optom Vis Dev 2009;40(3):164- 175.

Victorio M. EHMTI-0290. Headaches in patients with autism spectrum disorder. The Journal of Headache and Pain. 2014;15(Suppl 1):B37. doi:10.1186/1129-2377-15-S1-B37.

6Sullivan JC, Miller LJ, Nielsen DM, Schoen SA. The presence of migraines and its association with sensory hyperreactivity and anxiety symptomatology in children with autism spectrum disorder. Autism. 2014 Aug;18(6):743-7. doi: 10.1177/1362361313489377. Epub 2013 Sep 26.

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