Children and adults struggling with autism have to contend with various challenges. The good news: with the right approach and help, all of these challenges can be conquered.
We often receive questions on whether or not autism is a learning disability, pointing to the difficulties that individuals with autism have in a learning environment. The simple answer: autism is not a learning disability. However, it does affect learning in a variety of ways, and many individuals with autism do have a learning disability as well.
Understanding these nuances means diving into the disorder, how it affects learning, and what learning options individuals with autism have.
What Exactly is Autism?
As defined by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) describes a set of conditions that lead to a specific developmental disability. It affects individuals through the ways they interact socially, how they communicate, and how they experience their surroundings. People with autism spectrum disorder have sensory processing issues.
Crucially, though, its spectrum nature means that not every person with autism will experience all of these symptoms, and not everyone will experience them to the same degree. This nuanced disorder can include fully functioning individuals and patients heavily reliant on those around them.
As a neurodevelopmental disorder, autism affects people during critical developmental stages but remains prevalent throughout life. Its most common symptoms include repetitive or ritualistic behaviors, an insistence on order and organization, a heavy focus on small parts in a larger whole, and an insistence on routine beyond what most people would experience.
However, some children and adults with autism do not have any intellectual delays, and many have an IQ that is at or above the average. That’s why autism is not necessarily a learning disorder, because it doesn’t always negatively interfere with how an individual learns, takes in, and remembers information.
Does Autism Affect Learning in a Positive Way?
While autism is generally associated with negative learning implications, some of its typical characteristics can have a positive effect on individuals when it comes to information intake and memory:
- Especially children with autism tend to excel in visual learning, including the ability to find specific shapes within more complex pictures. Their ability to focus on details becomes a strength, helping these individuals to maximize their learning when focusing on the visual aspects of concepts.
- The structure is crucial for individuals with ASD, allowing them to navigate the nuances of learning in a more formal and organized way. As a result, rule-based learning that outlines exactly what to do and when tends to be especially successful for these individuals as they look to learn new skills.
These pre-dispositions help individuals with autism in subjects such as math or coding, where clear “if-then” rules determine the outcome and a correct answer exists. Some people with autism may have average or above-average intelligence that needs to be directed toward their strengths.
At the same time, it’s important to note that many learning experiences are challenging for anyone diagnosed with ASD. These positives can provide a glimpse of hope, but it’s still important to keep the adverse effects of this disability in mind as well, whether you’re struggling with learning yourself or seeking help for a loved one.
What Learning Options do People With Autism Have?
Individuals with autism will likely need specialized accommodations to learn the ways that make the most sense for them and their situation. They will require more personalized attention, potentially including a partner that walks through subjects with them and explains or re-explains them in their terms. They will also need a learning structure in which nuances like body language become less critical or are made more explicit.
People with ASD also benefit from learning environments more specifically tailored to their situations and interests. Their cognitive functions tend to be predisposed towards specific and more limited interests, to which they become closely attached to the point of potential obsession. Tying learning methods and outcomes to these interests significantly increase the chance of successful learning.
For example, a patient with autism may be interested in trains. Being able to relate particular topics and sessions to trains, from math to social science, will allow them to connect more closely to the concept and increase their chances of successfully learning about the subject.
At the same time, it’s also essential to keep in mind that individuals with autism may suffer from other learning disabilities, as well. The Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities estimates that 60%-70% of people with autism also have a learning disability. For these individuals, learning accommodations have to keep not just ASD in mind but also the learning disability from which they suffer.
Fortunately, many of these learning best practices overlap between the different disabilities. For example, teaching students with dyslexia includes focusing more on images and allowing extra time for lessons and questions, which can benefit students with autism as well. Still, a deeper understanding of every disability that might be at work is vital to ensuring the long-term health and success of the student.
Treat Autism through Acera Health
Don’t let autism spectrum disorder get in the way of a happy and healthy life. Instead, with the right professionals by your side, you can get the treatment you need and deserve to optimize your learning.
That begins with an accurate diagnosis of not just ASD but any learning disability that might come alongside it. From there, you can get the right treatments to reduce the symptoms that interfere with your daily functioning and quality of life, including any learning environment. Speech therapy, occupational therapy, psychotherapy, and medication may all be appropriate depending on your situation and symptoms.
Get in touch today to learn more about our services and how we can help you manage and overcome the daily challenges of living with ASD.