What you need to know

Is Autism a Learning Disability?

By Bob Cunningham

A few kids in my child’s study skills class have autism. Does that mean it’s a learning disability?

Bob Cunningham

Advisor-in-Residence, Understood

No, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) isn’t a learning disability. But it does affect learning. And kids who have autism are able to get special education services.

Special education law covers 13 types of disabilities. Autism is one. But it’s a separate category from the one known as specific learning disability (SLD).

SLD involves weaknesses in certain academic skills. Reading, writing and math are the main ones. Autism, however, has a broader impact on how a child develops.

It affects social skills and the way kids communicate. It also tends to involve sensory processing issues, repeated movements and limited interests.

Teachers and doctors know a lot about how to help with autism and with learning disabilities. But the strategies can be very different. And some interventions that are great for kids with learning and attention issues may not work for kids with autism.

Some strategies can even have the opposite effect. One example is teaching strategies that involve student discussion. This can be very helpful for kids with learning and attention issues.

But it can backfire in kids with ASD. Pushing them to engage in these same kinds of discussions can sometimes trigger unhelpful behavior.

This is one reason why it’s important to find out what’s going on with your child. It’s also a good idea to learn more about the differences between ASD and learning and attention issues. This can help you become a better advocate and find the most effective strategies and supports for your child.

About the Author

Portrait of Bob Cunningham

Bob Cunningham serves as advisor-in-residence on learning and attention issues for Understood.

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