Children with visual impairment and autism

Note added 4th January 2016: If you are surprised that you have not received an email from me for some time, please see the up-dated Newsletters section below.

Guidance for practitioners

The Visual Impairment and Autism Project, which ran from September 2008 to March 2011, was established to provide guidance for practitioners working with children who have both visual impairment and autism. This guidance was made available in the Resource Pack which was published as a CD-ROM by RNIB in May 2011. This sold out at the end of 2012. The material was posted on the RNIB website in 2013. In late 2014 and early 2015, it was revised and expanded, this version being posted in June 2015.

To access the 2015 version of the Visual Impairment and Autism Guidance Material, go to When you arrive at the page (which is headed “Complex needs”), scroll down to the heading “Visual impairment and autism”. There is a link to download the material and another link for a document explaining how to unzip the file. Should you have problems, you are invited to send an email to RNIB.

Details of the changes made to the guidance material are given in this pdf, which, like all such items on this page, opens in a new tab: The revised and expanded Visual Impairment and Autism Guidance Material – July 2015

More information about the Visual Impairment and Autism Project is provided in the following article: VI & Autism Project.

Visual Impairment and Autism reference list
This list is available to download as a pdf: VI & Autism References – January 2016.

The importance of music for children with visual impairment and autism
There is growing evidence that music is of particular importance to a significant proportion of children who have both visual impairment and autism. However, despite the importance of music to this group of children, little has been published on this issue. Indeed, the following two items are the only ones that have come to my attention:

Ockelford, A. (2013) Music, Language and Autism: exceptional strategies for exceptional minds. London: Jessica Kingsley. In Chapter 4 of this book, How Musicality Develops, Ockelford focuses mostly on the Sounds of Intent project, illustrated with a detailed description of an assessment of a child who is described as blind and autistic, with severe learning difficulties and cerebral palsy.

Robb, S.L. (2003) ‘Music Interventions and Group Participation Skills of Preschoolers with Visual Impairments: Raising Questions about Music, Arousal and Attention.’ Journal of Music Therapy; 40, 4, 266-282. Robb reports research in which she studied a group of 6 children with visual impairment; 1 of them is described as having “autistic-like tendencies”.

Because music is so important for many children with visual impairment and autism, it is featured in the Visual Impairment and Autism Guidance Material: one of the strategy areas is “Supporting musical skills and building on musical interests”. Many practitioners who are not musical themselves avoid supporting children’s musical interests and skills; in fact, there is a great deal such practitioners can achieve. I urge all practitioners who work with children who have both visual impairment and autism to refer to “Supporting musical skills and building on musical interests” in this guidance material. For more information about the guidance material and how to access it, see above.

Assessing the communication skills of children who have visual impairment and autism
Assessing the communication skills of children who have visual impairment and autism presents significant problems. Indeed, for many children in this group it is inappropriate to think in terms of assessment, as testing is not feasible. A more practical approach is to profile their communication skills. I have developed a process for profiling the communication of children who have visual impairment and additional disabilities (including autism). Full details are available on the Profiling communication in visually impaired children page (opens in a new tab).

The articles provided here complement the Resource Pack developed by the Visual Impairment and Autism Project team (see above). Unless otherwise specified, I have written the articles myself.

1. The role of repetitive questioning in a pupil with visual impairment and autism. Article 1
This article is by Tim Kehoe who teaches children who have visual impairment, including some who also have autism. In this article he writes about one of his pupils. Repetitive questioning seems to be quite common in verbal children (and probably adults) who have visual impairment and autism. Facilitating more functional skills in people who repeatedly ask questions can be difficult. Tim’s article should therefore be of considerable interest and value.

2. The Low Arousal Approach. Article 2

3. The Minimal Speech Approach. Article 3

Those concerned about the communication of children with visual impairment and autism may also find some useful material on the Communication in visually impaired children page (opens in a new tab).

4. Augmenting the awareness of social communication in a congenitally blind child: A case study. Article 4
This item is the dissertation Alyson Akers submitted for her BSc Honours Degree in
Human Communication (Speech and Language Therapy) at De Montfort University, Leicester, England, in 2011. Alyson’s study examines the use of a Social Story™ with a blind girl who experienced difficulties centred on her membership of a harp ensemble. The Social Story™ augmented the girl’s social awareness and reduced the difficulties she experienced. Alyson is now a practising speech and language therapist.

Book Review
At the end of 2011 I became aware of a potentially useful book on visual impairment and autism:

Hagood, L. (2008) Better Together. Building Relationships With People Who Have Visual Impairment and Autism Spectrum Disorder (or Atypical Social Development). Austin, Texas: TexasSchool for the Blind and Visually Impaired

I wrote a brief review of this book which was published in RNIB’s ‘Insight’ magazine (39, May/June 2012). However, I feel a much more detailed review is warranted in order to discuss some issues I regard as important. I have therefore posted a full review here as a pdf. Hagood review

During the Visual Impairment and Autism Project, we provided a series of newsletters to keep those interested up-to-date with developments. When the Project ended, I continued to send out a newsletter periodically. I posted each newsletter here, as a pdf, starting with that for September 2011. They are available below. As with all other pdfs on this site, each one opens in a new tab. As time passed, there was less to write and I sent the last newsletter out in July 2014. I intended to produce another newsletter in the summer of 2015, but decided instead to email everyone in the contacts list with the news that the Guidance Material was again available. Just before my retirement in November 2015, I planned to email everyone a final time to inform them of this and to say that I would no longer be producing newsletters or sending emails. However, before I could send that email, my laptop crashed and I lost most of my email contacts. So, if you are wondering why you haven’t heard from me for some time, that is the explanation.

VI & Autism Newsletter 05, September 2011. September 2011

VI & Autism Newsletter 06, December 2011. December 2011

VI & Autism Newsletter 07, June 2012. June 2012

VI & Autism Newsletter 08, September 2012. Sept 12

VI & Autism Newsletter 09, January 2013. Jan 13

VI & Autism Newsletter 10, July 2013. July 13

VI & Autism Newsletter 11, September 2013. Sept 13

VI & Autism Newsletter 12, January 2014. Jan 14

VI & Autism Newsletter 13, July 2014. July 14