Is Autism a Learning Disability?

By Bob Cunningham, EdM
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Q

Since kids with autism can get special education services, does that mean autism is a learning disability?

A

No, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) isn’t a learning disability. But it does affect learning—sometimes in ways like learning disabilities. And kids who have autism are often eligible for special education services.

Special education law covers 13 types of disabilities, including a category known as specific learning disability (SLD). Autism is another category.

Kids who have an SLD have challenges in certain academic skills. Reading, writing, and math are the main ones. Autism may cause challenges in those areas, too. However, it also has a broader impact on how kids develop.

It affects communication and can cause trouble with social skills. 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. Some supports that are great for kids with learning disabilities may not work for kids with autism—and vice versa. Autism and learning disabilities can co-occur, too.

About the Author

About the Author

Bob Cunningham, EdM 

serves as executive director of learning development at Understood.

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