Autism Spectrum Disorder and Learning Disabilities

Autism doesnt mean that your intelligence is distorted. People on the spectrum could be with any level of intelligence. Even thoughh, there is no problem with ther intelligence, they may suffer from learning disabilities. Learning diassabilities and intelligence are not depend on each other. Although both disorders show overlap in some behaviors they are different in many aspects.

In this article, I will try to clarify that whether they are distinct syndromes which influence each other or they belong to a broad spectrum. We will take a look in detailed what autism is, what learning disability is and what the differences are and what the similarities are.

Autism spectrum disorder is not a learning disability, but it can affect learning. Every individual on the spectrum experience autism differently. While some have delays, some don’t. While some have average IQ, some have a high IQ level. While some are high-functioning and others have a severe disability.

In Autism Spectrum Disorder, individuals might display different symptoms such as difficulties in establishing and maintaining communication, problems in perception, impairment in learning, speech difficulties, inability to understand emotions and body languages, unresponsiveness to events, problems in physical development, disabilities in act of writing, reading writing difference. Autism originates from some parts of the brain not working in a synchronized manner.

Symptoms of autism spectrum disorder can be relieved with the right treatment and training methods. Then, individuals can express themselves better and can communicate with people around them by using signs and symptoms.

In the case of autism, individuals with that disorder should receive special education in addition to standard education which normally developed children take. The individual with autism has a different and special way of learning, even in the spectrum, they have different ways from each other. That’s why every individual needs special training to develop themselves.

Late-onset on learning, inability to understand certain concepts, refuse to learn, etc. They could be experienced by children with learning disabilities. These problems can be overcome with the right approach and training. They need to put more effort into increased willingness to learn.

While learning disabilities are not a mental disorder, autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder. Learning disabilities are not a state of learning due to sensory organs, such as impairment in eyesight and hearing, they are mostly emotional and behavioral problems.

On the other hand, learning disabilities are not diseases, because of the fact that there is either no medical treatment or no medication for them. On the contrary to popular belief, both most individuals with learning disabilities and individuals with autism spectrum disorder may not have extraordinary abilities.

Asperger syndrome, which is found in the autism spectrum and does not affect the level of intelligence, and dyslexia, which is one of the prominent among learning difficulties, can be mixed from time to time. In this case, differential diagnostic criteria should be examined.

Besides all of them, although children with autism experience learning disabilities in standard training, this does not mean that they do not have special abilities. Sometimes a child with autism can reject the training. The rejection of training means that the child is either not interested in the field or is afraid of failing.

With the right training and education, children may be able to reveal their unrecognized abilities. Even more, they can become very successful by being encouraged in their field of interest.

Even if it is slow, making progress is possible. After understanding the areas that children are lacking, with simple training, it can be developed. Therefore, training in accordance with the situation of the children and the type of learning is very important in terms of their personal development.

Special Learning Disabilities

Special Learning Disability consisting of several sub-sections such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia. They are learning disorders which are characterized by significant difficulties in listening, speaking, reading, writing and reasoning.

Auditory Processing Disorder

In the auditory processing disorder, the brain’s ability to process and interpret voice is affected. Children with auditory processing disorders have trouble understanding words and/or sounds. They find it difficult to differentiate between voices in other places, such as a crowded room or a street. Auditory processing disorder is not a physiological problem.

Children with auditory processing disorders have problems with remembering, understanding and processing information that they have heart, such as the instructions of their parents or teachers. They find it difficult to explain what they hear while performing commands or re-telling a story.

Language Processing Disorder

Language processing disorder is a type of auditory processing disorder associated with the ability of the brain to handle only the language. The individual who has a language processing disorder has a problem with the meaning dimension of the language and cannot express themselves in speech.

This problem can be reflected in what they write, and their writings can be haphazard and disorganized. They may also have difficulty understanding the jokes and remembering some words.


Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. They mostly have problems with writings, reading what is written. They may have trouble with letters and word recognition. They may have problems with understanding words and ideas. Also, they may have trouble with reading speech and fluency. In short, we can say that individuals with dyslexia have trouble with general vocabulary.

Dyslexia primarily affects a person’s reading ability. However, this may negatively affect the ability to speak and to understand written texts. Children with dyslexia often confuse letters, find it difficult to distinguish between sound units and read the text without understanding.

These children face many difficulties in school life. Wrong or slow readings of written texts can cause confusion or embarrassment. They may find it difficult to understand the written instructions, so they may not be able to complete the task in a given period. Therefore, they may find it difficult to study for exams and concentrate in class.

The most prominent area in children with special learning difficulties is dyslexia. Dyslexia is divided into two groups as congenital developmental dyslexia and dyslexia due to trauma.

Congenital dyslexia occurs due to complications occurring before, during and after delivery. Inadequate and unbalanced nutrition during pregnancy, infections and unconscious use of drugs, long and difficult birth, placental anomalies, delay in breathing of the baby after birth and may cause dyslexia. Dyslexia may also occur due to hereditary factors.

Children with dyslexia are slow to read, especially when they do not know and are unable to read long words. They read the words by abbreviating and guessing. Meaningful rhythm, timbre, and tone can be impaired when reading aloud. They can emphasize in the wrong place.

They cannot make sense of the story they read. Their writing is mostly corrupted. They cannot separate words that are close to each other. They can mix line tracking. They have difficulty in passing the line. They can skip a word, refuse to read it or place a different word.


Some children have special skills in mathematics, while children with dyscalculia experience particular difficulties in learning mathematics. Dyscalculia is having difficulties in counting, understanding numbers and symbols and, in short, expressing the difficulty of understanding mathematics.

It is a number-based learning disability. It means they have the most problems with numbers and calculations. Individuals with dyscalculia may struggle with recalling sequences of numbers, calculating using even the basic math functions, organization of numbers, operation signs, number facts, counting, and telling time.

Individuals with dyscalculia have difficulty in identifying patterns, recognizing mathematical symbols, and in basic mathematical operations. Therefore, mostly their grades in mathematics are low.

These shortcomings cause some problems outside school life as well. People who have dyscalculia may also have difficulty in daily activities such as counting money, reading time and calendar.


It is a writing-based learning disability. Dysgraphia refers to the difficulty of writing. There is no problem that prevents children with dysgraphia from writing on their body or motor skills.

Individuals with dysgraphia may have problems with neatness when writing, illegible handwriting, copying letters and words, spelling, and organizing their thoughts on paper.

Individuals with dysgraphia are complex or completely illegible. Apart from that, they are slow writers and may not put spaces between words. They can write letters incorrectly or illegible or even they can confuse letters. As they often misspell words, they also have difficulty expressing their thoughts in writing.

Dysgraphia, like dyslexia, may cause the child to be perceived as irregular and sloppy in school. Failure to understand the manuscripts causes the reader to be confused or misunderstood. This situation negatively affects the evaluation and academic progress of the student with dysgraphia.

They can be excluded in group work because they have no contribution or they are slow. This may lead to low self-esteem and feeling nervous or nervous in social situations.

Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities

There is clearly a great deal of overlap between Asperger’s syndrome and Non-verbal Learning Disabilities. It is called non-verbal learning disability when verbal skills develop and motor skills and/or visual-spatial skills do not develop. Children with such learning disabilities are perceived as physically clumsy while they can express themselves verbally.

They feel the need to talk about ordinary things or obvious situations and to talk a lot about what happens around them. They tend to understand each word in the first and straight terms. Therefore, they have difficulty in evaluating non-verbal communication methods such as body language.

Their organizational skills are mostly weak, particularly in written work. Due to the fact that spatial motor problems and fine motor movements, their handwritings are usually poor. Math is viewed the most problematic subject as academics because, for example, an individual may know the answer to a simple multiplication problem however may not understand what multiplication is.

After all these explanations, we can say that there is a huge difference between Autism Spectrum Disorder and learning disabilities, except non-verbal learning difficulties. As we understand from the information mentioned before, learning difficulties have an influence on specific areas; however, autism affects an individual’s life more seriously.

In children with special learning difficulties who start primary school, this disorder manifests itself as of late learning, erroneous or incomplete reading, difficulty in reading, missing, corrupt, and incorrect, slow reading speed, and difficulty in understanding math. Sometimes mild forms may not be noticed.

The symptoms of specific learning disabilities do not indicate low levels of intelligence. It can even be seen even in gifted children or children with high intelligence. Performance in mentally retarded children shows an overall decrease in many different areas. However, in children with special learning disabilities, it is a challenge to gain skills in reading, writing or mathematics.

Children with special learning disabilities also may have attention problems. Therefore, these children should be given systemic attention training by an expert. Verbal, audio, visual training methods should be selected.

These children cannot read the exam questions quickly and cannot write the answer in a given time. Therefore, oral examinations are more effective and beneficial for these children. They are more successful in multiple-choice exams. Early diagnosis is very important for the determination of the future education of these children. The child should be helped and supported.

Common Characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder and Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities are lifelong disorders. It means that with the treatment they don’t go away, you can only reduce the effects of the symptoms. They are diagnosed in childhood as well as autism. diagnosed in childhood like autism spectrum disorder. We know that autism affects people in different ways, so we can say that learning disabilities affect all individuals in different ways.

They share common difficulties. For example, these difficulties include adapting behaviors to different circumstances, having interactions with other people and controlling behavior.

Mental health professionals and scientists have found genetic differences in both autism spectrum disorder and learning disabilities making it likely that the two conditions are related.

Both autism spectrum disorder and learning disabilities share some common characteristics. These overlapping symptoms make both ASD and learning difficulties to diagnose. Example of some common characteristics;

  • ASD and learning disabilities are lifelong conditions.
  • There is no cure for both ASD and learning disabilities.
  • Both ASD and learning disabilities have a significant impact on an individual’s life.
  • Early detection and intervention are essential in both ASD and learning disabilities.
  • Prominent symptoms of ASD such as sensory processing issues, emotional dysregulations, meltdowns, tantrums and troubles with social skills are also common in learning disabilities.

Both individuals with ASD and individuals with learning disabilities can share difficulties with executive functions. These executive functions could be organization, time management and problem-solving. Also, we can add emotional dysregulation.

Autism spectrum disorder and some of the learning disabilities such as dyspraxia and dysgraphia can cause motor skill problems, clumsiness and poor handwriting.

People with autism, language-based learning disabilities, and nonverbal learning disabilities can find difficult some basic daily routines because their disorder makes it difficult. For example, verbal expression, following conversations, speaking at an appropriate volume, and so on.

Due to the fact that these overlapping symptoms, a thorough evaluation is very essential at first. And then, accurate diagnosis has significant importance for those individuals. Strategies and interventions differ based on the condition and the individual’s needs.

While some solutions work well with learning disabilities, the same ones don’t work for autism or vice versa. Professionals can help distinguish between learning disability and autism. They work with those children and parents to create a treatment and intervention plan.

Assessment of Nonverbal Learning Disabilities Compared with Assessment of Autism Spectrum Disorder

As we mentioned before, a non-verbal learning disability is the one that shares more common symptoms with an autism spectrum disorder. So now it is time to compare the assessment of them.

Non-verbal learning disability should be diagnosed in the context of a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation. It is not simply a matter of IQ. There could be other reasons and discrepancies behind it.

Furthermore, it can be present even if no discrepancies between strong verbal ability and poor performance show up on the WISC which is Weschler Intelligence Scale for Children. Like in the assessment of autism spectrum disorder, individuals do not need to have and display every characteristic of nonverbal learning disability for the diagnosis.

While the process of assessment of non-verbal learning disability, it is important to assess the child’s life as a whole, which means not just the cognitive status takes into consideration. Because non-verbal learning disability can be complicated by an array of psychiatric and social or familial problems.

On the other hand, autism spectrum disorder is best diagnosed from a detailed history, school reports, and observing the child. As parents vary in how they report symptoms, it is a good sign if is the child had engaged in symbolic play as a toddler.

Children with autism tend not to play with toys as the thing which they represent. For instance, children with autism may collect fire trucks but they play with them as airplanes. Parents should also report that their children use language instrumentally. The children with autism do not seem to consider that the other may have different ideas, which means they do not have the capability of empathy.

Because of those reasons in order to get an autism diagnosis, there is no need for neuropsychological testing. However, autism and learning disability disorders overlap so much, neuropsychological testing is strongly recommended to differentiate.

Importance of Family in Treatment and Training of Learning Disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorder

There is no family wants to have an unhealthy child. Therefore, from the beginning of pregnancy, parents wait until the child is born and hope to have a smooth baby with hope and anxiety. Children with learning difficulties and children with autism have encountered some problems since their birth. For example, restless and uncomfortable sleep and feeding problems.

As in every area, families have great importance in the education and training process of autism and learning disabilities. Families have a big role in processing disorders with the help of treatment and training.

Family members need support and education during this period. Family education has essential importance to teach their children knowledge and skills, to cope with the problems that may arise, to develop the relationships in a positive way and to continue the education given in special education in the home environment.

First of all, families need to be informed about both disorder. They should know the proper methods of behaviors and attitudes. In terms of being supportive and helpful, they should show a supportive attitude at home towards the child’s training with signs and symptoms.

Children with autism spectrum disorder who have trouble with socialization and communication feel more comfortable at home atmosphere and therefore they may be more open to learning. With the right methods and forms of training, parents can help their children with autism improve faster by paying attention to their children’s learning disabilities.

Neuro-psychological disorders are life long condition. Unfortunately, they cannot be overcome. The right approach and training process is needed for families. Special education programs is required.

It is possible to fight with autism, overcome learning disabilities, and develop personal skills. For this aim, it is important that education and love should become together.

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