Self-Test: Does Your Child on the Autism Spectrum Have a Learning Disability?

“I think my son with autism (high functioning) may have a learning disability. How can I know for sure? And what should I do about it?”

Many kids with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism have difficulty with writing, reading comprehension, or other learning-related tasks, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they have a learning disability. A youngster with a learning disability often has several related signs, which persist over time. The signs of a disability vary from child to child.

Each learning disability has its own signs. Also, not every child with a particular disability will have ALL of the signs. Common indicators include:
  • Difficulty finding the right way to say something
  • Difficulty listening well
  • Difficulty remembering
  • Difficulty staying on task (i.e., easily distracted)
  • Difficulty with concepts related to time
  • Difficulty with reading and/or writing
  • Immature way of speaking
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Inappropriate responses in school or social situations
  • Inconsistent school performance
  • Poor coordination
  • Problems paying attention
  • Problems staying organized
  • Problems understanding words or concepts
  • Problems with math skills
  • Trouble following directions

Here are some common learning disabilities and the signs associated with them:


A child with dyspraxia has problems with motor tasks (e.g., hand-eye coordination) that can interfere with learning. Other symptoms of dyspraxia include:
  • Trouble with tasks that require hand-eye coordination (e.g., coloring within the lines, assembling puzzles, cutting precisely, etc.)
  • Sensitivity to touch (e.g., irritation over certain clothing textures)
  • Sensitivity to loud and/or repetitive noises (e.g., ticking of a clock)
  • Problems organizing oneself and one's things
  • Poor balance
  • Breaking things

 ==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism


Dysgraphia is characterized by problems with writing, which cause a youngster to be tense and awkward when holding a pen or pencil to the extent of contorting his body. The youngster with very poor handwriting that he does not outgrow may have dysgraphia. Other signs of Dysgraphia include:
  • Trouble writing down thoughts in a logical sequence
  • Trouble writing down ideas
  • Saying words out loud while writing
  • Problems with grammar
  • Leaving words unfinished or omitting them when writing sentences
  • A strong dislike of writing 
  • A quick loss of interest while writing


Signs of this disorder include problems understanding basic math concepts (e.g., fractions, number lines, positive and negative numbers, etc.). Other symptoms include:
  • Trouble with understanding the time sequence of events
  • Trouble recognizing logical information sequences (e.g., steps in math problems)
  • Trouble making change in cash transactions
  • Messiness in putting math problems on paper
  • Difficulty with verbally describing math processes
  • Difficulty with math-related word problems


Children with dyslexia usually have trouble making the connections between letters and sounds. They also have difficulty with spelling and recognizing words. Other signs include:
  • Trouble learning foreign languages
  • Trouble distinguishing left from right
  • Slowness in learning songs and rhymes
  • Slow reading
  • Poor spelling
  • Poor self-expression (e.g., saying "thing" or "stuff" for words not recalled)
  • Giving up on longer reading tasks
  • Failure to fully understand what others are saying
  • Difficulty understanding questions and following directions
  • Difficulty recalling numbers in sequence (e.g., telephone numbers and addresses)
  • Difficulty organizing written and spoken language
  • Difficulty learning new vocabulary (either through hearing or reading)
  • Delayed ability to speak

30 - 50 % of children with ADHD have a learning disability. The reverse is true, too. 30 – 50 % with a learning disability have ADHD. If a youngster has been diagnosed with ADHD and continues to have problems academically, he or she may a learning disability.

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Below is a self-test that will give parents clues about whether or not their youngster has a learning disability.

  • My youngster has problems with remembering routines, information, and multiple instructions.
  • My youngster has poor physical coordination and uneven motor development (e.g., delays in learning to run, color, use scissors, etc.).
  • My youngster has delays in socialization (e.g., playing with - and responding to - his peer group).
  • My youngster has communication problems (e.g., slow language development, difficulty with speech).
  • He finds it hard to understand what is being said or communicating his thoughts to others.

Kindergarten to 4th Grade:
  • My youngster loses work she has done or forgets to turn it into the educator.
  • My youngster is challenged when it comes to doing math.
  • My youngster has trouble with reading comprehension.
  • She has problems forming letters and numbers.
  • She has problems with basic spelling and grammar.
  • My youngster has trouble understanding oral instructions.
  • He has difficulty expressing himself verbally.
  • My youngster has trouble organizing information, materials (e.g., notebook, binder, papers), and concepts.
  • My youngster has trouble blending sounds and letters to sound out words.
  • She has trouble remembering familiar words by sight.
  • My youngster has problems with rapid letter recognition and with learning phonemes (i.e., individual units of sound).
  • He has difficulty remembering facts.

5th and 6th Grades:
  • My youngster finds it hard to stay organized in school.
  • He loses personal belongings, papers, assignments, or forgets to turn them in.
  • My youngster has difficulty learning new math concepts and successfully applying them.
  • She has difficulty organizing her thoughts for written work.
  • My youngster is challenged when it comes to reading material independently.
  • He has trouble retaining what he read.

Middle School: 
  • My youngster has difficulty with time management, organization, and developing learning strategies.
  • My youngster has trouble retaining what was read (i.e., reading fluency).
  • He has difficulty organizing and writing answers on papers and tests (i.e., writing fluency).
  • He has problems mastering more advanced math concepts.

High School:
  • My youngster has increased difficulty with time planning and organization as more independent work is expected.
  • My youngster has increased difficulty with writing papers, reading assignments, and understanding math concepts.

If parents agree with a majority of the statements above, they should discuss their concerns with their child’s educator(s). Most public schools use a 3-tier model for evaluation:
  1. The educator observes the youngster. If she or he agrees with the parent’s concerns, a special-education teacher will observe the youngster in class.
  2. Modified teaching strategies will be tried.
  3. If the special-education teacher agrees, a formal evaluation will be done to determine if the child has a learning disability.

If the youngster’s educator does not respond to parents’ concerns, they should speak with the principal. If the youngster is in a private school, parents are entitled to speak to the principal of the public school their youngster would have gone to and request help.

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD

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