Freehold Borough Learning Disabilities

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Empowered Learning Transformation Centers

Learning Disabilities vs. Autism

Is Autism a Learning Disability?

The short answer to this question is “no.” The long answer is a bit more complicated.

For one thing, an autistic child may have a learning disability in addition to autism. For another, autistic children and those who have one or several different learning disabilities can have similar symptoms. Let’s begin this discussion by first defining autism. According to, Autism is “a spectrum of neuropsychiatric disorders characterized by deficits in social interaction and communication, and unusual and repetitive behavior. Some, but not all, people with autism are non-verbal.” 1


What causes this condition is still being debated and researched. However, currently, most researchers agree that it is the result of a gene defect that is either inherited or acquired. The reason for this acquisition has caused much debate. Some theorize, for example, that it’s caused by various vaccines given to children between birth and 18 months of age. Others say exposure to different substances in the environment or in the child’s diet is the culprit. However, nothing has been proven so far one way or another. We do know that, contrary to past speculation, autism is NOT the result of emotional trauma.1

What does autism mean?


According to WebMD, the name “autism” comes from “autos,” the Greek word for self and references a condition in which the patient is an “isolated self.” A Swiss psychiatrist, Eugen Bleuler, was the first to use the term in this context referring to a group of symptoms related to schizophrenia. Then in the 1940s, American researchers began using it when describing young children with emotional problems that affected social behavior. Dr. Leo Kanner from Johns Hopkins University also used the term to explain the behavior of some children he was studying who were severely withdrawn. 2


Between 1943 and 2013 various forms of autism were diagnosed and named including Asperger’s syndrome; Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), Not Otherwise Specified (NOS) and Heller’s Syndrome or Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD). Then, in 2013, the American Psychiatric Association updated the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) that put all of these conditions under a single diagnosis referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Under this revised definition, there were two areas that determined diagnosis: social communication/ interaction and restricted and repetitive behavior. 3


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about one in every 68 children in the U.S. has been identified as having ASD. The disorder affects children of every race, ethnic group and socioeconomic background and is five times more common among boys than among girls.4

Here are some of the symptoms of autism in children.5


• They seem to be disconnected to others

• They have an apparent lack of empathy

• They are uninterested and lack curiosity about others

• They may have emotional outbursts inappropriate the situation

• Their language development is often delayed

• They may resort to non-verbal communication instead of speech

• They lack the ability to interpret body language and other nonverbal cues.

• They use language in a very literal way

• They engage in repetitive behaviors – especially when stressed

• They may seek out – or avoid – sensory input

Yet autistic people can be high achievers.


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