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Autism spectrum conditions: could glasses with coloured lenses help children?

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What did the project achieve?

“Our results suggest that simple interventions involving colours can improve the lives of children with autism, especially those with the most severe sensory difficulties and more repetitive behaviours,” says Dr Amanda Ludlow of the University of Hertfordshire.

Around one in every 100 children in the UK has an autism spectrum condition (ASC).1 Many will experience visual difficulties, such as problems with recognising people’s faces or understanding their expressions.

In this study, Dr Ludlow’s team initially explored if using glasses with coloured lenses can help improve the visual abilities of children with ASC. For each child, they selected a specific colour that was the most effective at clarifying written words, and then assessed their ability to understand facial expressions and interpret other social cues.

“Children were better at identifying emotional cues when wearing glasses with their individualised coloured lenses, but not with another similar colour,” says Dr Ludlow.

The researchers also carried out a preliminary study to investigate whether working inside a tent illuminated with a child’s chosen colour could be a helpful approach, with encouraging initial results.

The team are now planning more studies to look at the potential benefits of wearing tinted lenses over several months. They will also test their tents in bigger groups and get feedback from schools on their usability.

“As part of this work, we are working on guidelines and recommendations that will aid on the visual assessment in children with ASC,” says Dr Ludlow. “Ultimately, we hope we will be able to create a protocol to help testing visual abnormalities in children with ASC.”

  1. NHS Choices: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/autism/ [website accessed 03 May 2018]

This research was completed on

Evidence suggests at least one in 100 children in the UK has an autism spectrum condition (ASC).1-3 These children are thought to see things differently to other children. They can find it hard to recognise people’s faces, and understand facial expressions, for example, and things like bright lights can seem unusually stressful. Dr Amanda Ludlow, of the University of Birmingham, is investigating whether glasses with coloured lenses might help children to see, and perceive, things more clearly, to help improve their social skills. If they do, the benefits could be profound.

How are children’s lives affected now?

“Our research focuses on children’s vision – on how they perceive the things they can see,” explains Dr Ludlow. “Children with ASCs can have difficulty, for example, interpreting how other people are feeling, finding it hard to read facial expressions. They often avoid making and maintaining eye contact with other people. Social relationships can be challenging, overwhelming even.”

Children with ASCs can also be hyper-sensitive to things they see. They can find over-stimulating environments, such as rooms with bright lights, highly stressful, a problem known as ‘visual stress’.

“We believe that the way children with ASCs see the world might be at the root of some of the difficulties they experience with social behaviour and learning,” says Dr Ludlow. “Unfortunately though, there is a lack of understanding of these matters. More research is needed urgently.”

How could this research help?

“We are investigating whether coloured lighting benefits children with ASCs,” explains Dr Ludlow. “Does it help children to see and perceive things more clearly? Could it stop them from finding certain environments over-stimulating? If so, glasses with coloured lenses might help children to read people’s facial expressions, judge how other people are feeling, and improve their social skills.”

A similar approach has already been shown to improve reading in around 80 per cent of children with an ASC. When reading, children place sheets of coloured, see-through plastic, known as ‘overlays’, over the pages of books.

Dr Ludlow also aims to find out more about the type of visual stress that children with ASCs experience, and develop a way to diagnose those problems.

“If it seems that glasses with coloured lenses would prove beneficial, this simple, low-cost treatment could have profound effects on children’s lives,” says Dr Ludlow.


1. Baird G et al. Prevalence of disorders of the autism spectrum in a population cohort of children in South Thames: the Special Needs and Autism Project (SNAP)Lancet 2006; 368: 210–15.

2. Office for National Statistics. Mental health of children and young people in Great Britain, 2004. Palgrave Macmillan 2005. http://www.esds.ac.uk/doc/5269/mrdoc/pdf/5269technicalreport.pdf Website accessed 5 June 2013.

3. NICE Clinical Guidance 128. Autism diagnosis in children and young people. http://www.nice.org.uk/nicemedia/live/13572/56428/56428.pdf Website accessed 5 June 2013




Project Leader Dr Amanda Ludlow BSc PhD
Project Team Dr Peter M Allen PhD, DPhilDr David R Simmons DPhil BSc ARCSDr A Franklin BSc PhDProfessor Arnold J Wilkins DPhil CPsychol FBPsS HonFCO
Project Location Department of Psychology, University of Hertfordshire
Project Location Other Department of Vision and Hearing sciences, Anglia Ruskin University, CambridgeSchool of Psychology, University of GlasgowSchool of Psychology, University of SussexDepartment of Psychology, University of Essex
Project duration 3 years
Date awarded 18 June 2013
Project start date 1 February 2014
Project end date 31 January 2017
Grant amount £127,936
Grant code GN2047
Acknowledgements This project is funded by a generous grant from The Baily Thomas Charitable Fund


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