February 20, 2024
Girl playing cards with therapist

Dyslexia and Autism: How Do They Compare?

Posted February 20, 2024

Knowing the difference in symptoms between dyslexia and autism can be extremely tricky. How can you know if your child who reads slower than his classmates has dyslexia or autism (or something entirely different)?

Wanting to support your child or a loved one cope with having learning challenges can be difficult when you don’t know what they’re symptoms mean. And it can be especially difficult to decipher if some symptoms tie to dyslexia and/or autism.

In this article, we will explore the relationship between dyslexia and autism. Dyslexia affects reading and writing, while autism impacts social communication and behavior. Despite their differences, some individuals can have both conditions. We will discuss the similarities, co-occurrence, and how understanding these connections can lead to better support and care for those affected by dyslexia and autism.


Similarities of Dyslexia and Autism


Dyslexia and autism are both neurodevelopmental disorders that affect the way individuals process information, particularly in the realm of communication and social interactions. While they are distinct conditions with unique features, there are some notable similarities between them.


Neurological Basis

Both dyslexia and autism have a neurological basis and are considered to be lifelong conditions, and both conditions result from atypical brain development.

Overlapping Symptoms

There is some overlap in the symptoms displayed by individuals with dyslexia and autism. For instance, both may struggle with language and communication. People with dyslexia might experience difficulty expressing themselves verbally, while individuals with autism might have challenges understanding non-literal language, such as sarcasm or metaphors.

Sensory Sensitivities

Sensory sensitivities are common in both dyslexia and autism. Individuals with dyslexia may be sensitive to visual or auditory stimuli, while people with autism often experience heightened sensitivity to sensory input, such as sounds, lights, textures, or smells. These sensitivities can impact their daily lives and contribute to sensory overload or meltdowns.

Social Challenges

While dyslexia primarily affects language-related skills, it can also impact social interactions to some degree. Similarly, individuals with autism commonly face challenges in understanding and navigating social situations, often struggling with interpreting social cues and norms.


Kids On The Move: A Resource for Those With Learning Disabilities


Kids On The Move is a non-profit organization that provides support to children with autism and other learning disabilities. We offer a variety of programs and services to help children develop social skills, improve communication, and reduce anxiety. We provide a safe and supportive environment where children can participate in a range of activities, such as art, music, and sports, while also receiving specialized support from trained professionals.


Differences Between Dyslexia and Autism


Dyslexia and autism are distinct neurodevelopmental disorders, and while they may share some similarities, they also have several significant differences:


Focus of Difficulties

Dyslexia primarily affects language-based skills, particularly reading, writing, and spelling. Individuals with dyslexia may have trouble decoding words, recognizing letter-sound associations, and comprehending written text. Autism, on the other hand, is characterized by challenges in social communication and interaction, as well as restricted and repetitive behaviors. People with autism may struggle with understanding non-verbal cues, developing relationships, and interpreting social norms.

Social Communication and Interactions

Dyslexia does not inherently affect social communication skills. While individuals with dyslexia may experience difficulties in academic settings due to reading and writing challenges, they usually have typical social interactions. Autism is primarily a social communication disorder. Individuals with autism often struggle with understanding social cues, body language, and facial expressions, which can hinder their ability to form meaningful relationships and participate in social activities.

Repetitive Behaviors and Restricted Interests

Dyslexia does not involve repetitive behaviors or restricted interests as a defining feature. It is primarily characterized by difficulties in language processing and academic tasks. Autism spectrum disorder often involves repetitive behaviors, such as hand-flapping, rocking, or engaging in rigid routines. People with autism may also display intense interests in specific topics or activities, sometimes to the exclusion of other activities.

Co-Occurring Conditions

Dyslexia is often a stand-alone condition and does not commonly co-occur with other neurodevelopmental disorders. Autism, however, frequently co-occurs with other conditions, such as intellectual disabilities, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and specific learning disabilities like dyslexia.

An important part of correctly diagnosing someone with autism and/or dyslexia is recognizing early signs of the two. Early intervention can set a child on the right track for navigating life with a learning disability. Let’s learn more about some early signs of dyslexia and autism in young children.


Early Signs of Dyslexia


Here are several early signs that may indicate a possible dyslexia diagnosis: 


  • Delayed Speech Development: Difficulty in acquiring language skills and speaking later than expected milestones can be an early indication of dyslexia. 
  • Difficulty With Rhyming: Struggling to recognize or generate rhyming words, such as “cat,” “bat,” and “hat.” 
  • Letter and Number Reversals: Frequently reversing letters (e.g., b/d, p/q) and numbers (e.g., 6/9, 3/5) beyond the typical age when such errors are common. 
  • Poor Spelling: Persistent difficulties with spelling common words and relying on phonetic approximations or guessing. 
  • Reading Difficulties: Struggling to decode words and read fluently, which may involve slow and labored reading or frequent word recognition errors. 
  • Difficulty Understanding and Following Verbal Instructions: Having trouble processing and remembering spoken information. 
  • Slow Reading Comprehension: Difficulty understanding and retaining the meaning of texts read, despite being able to decode the words. 
  • Frustration With Schoolwork: Exhibiting signs of frustration, anxiety, or low self-esteem related to academic performance. 
  • Limited Vocabulary: Showing a restricted vocabulary compared to peers of the same age. 


Early Signs of Autism


Identifying early signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is crucial for early intervention and support. Keep in mind that autism is a spectrum disorder, and individuals with ASD can display a wide range of behaviors and characteristics. Here are some early signs that may indicate a possible autism diagnosis:


  • Lack of or Limited Eye Contact: Infants and young children with autism may avoid or have difficulty making eye contact with caregivers or others. 
  • Delayed or Atypical Speech Development: Late onset of speech, limited language development, or atypical patterns of speech, such as repeating phrases (echolalia) or speaking in a robotic manner. 
  • Limited Social Interactions: Difficulty engaging in age-appropriate social interactions, such as not responding to their name, not showing interest in playing with others, or preferring to play alone. 
  • Repetitive Behaviors: Engaging in repetitive movements or behaviors, such as hand-flapping, rocking, spinning objects, or repeating specific actions. 
  • Sensory Sensitivities: Reacting strongly to sensory stimuli, such as being overly sensitive to lights, sounds, textures, or tastes, or seeking intense sensory input. 
  • Unusual Motor Movements: Displaying unusual or clumsy motor movements, such as walking on tiptoes or displaying other atypical gait patterns. 
  • Difficulty With Non-Verbal Communication: Struggling to understand or use non-verbal cues, such as gestures, facial expressions, or body language. 
  • Unusual Attachments to Objects: Developing intense and unusual attachments to specific objects or toys. 


Can Someone Have Dyslexia and Autism? 


Having both dyslexia and autism is possible due to the complex nature of neurodevelopmental disorders. Dyslexia primarily affects language processing, while autism impacts social communication and behavior. Individuals can exhibit overlapping traits, leading to a dual diagnosis. For instance, a person with autism might struggle with language comprehension, leading to dyslexia-like difficulties. Alternatively, a person with dyslexia may also experience social challenges common in autism. This co-occurrence requires tailored interventions addressing both conditions’ unique aspects to support the individual’s learning, communication, and social interactions effectively.  

Although it is possible to have both dyslexia and autism, having one disorder does not guarantee an individual also has the other. This is why it’s important to be aware of the symptoms of both and seek a professional’s opinion to ensure the correct diagnosis.  

With the correct diagnosis, individuals can receive appropriate support and be set to accomplish great things throughout their lives like any other person.