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Does Autism Cause Dyslexia?

While both disorders are different, they often co-occur in individuals, leading to the question, does autism cause dyslexia?

mark elias
Mark Elias
October 31, 2023

The Relationship Between Autism and Dyslexia

Research studies have shown that there is a significant overlap between autism and dyslexia. According to the National Autistic Society, up to 40% of individuals with autism also have dyslexia. This high rate suggests that there may be a link between the two disorders.

Understanding the Link

While the exact cause of the link is not yet fully understood, researchers have identified several factors that may contribute to the co-occurrence of autism and dyslexia. One possible explanation is that both disorders involve abnormalities in the brain's white matter, which affects the processing of information.

Another theory is that the link between autism and dyslexia may be due to genetic factors. Studies have shown that there may be shared genes between the two disorders, which could increase the risk of developing both conditions.

Implications for Diagnosis and Treatment

The co-occurrence of autism and dyslexia has important implications for diagnosis and treatment. Individuals with autism who also have dyslexia may require specialized interventions to address both disorders.

For example, a person with autism and dyslexia may benefit from a combination of speech therapy and reading interventions. Additionally, educators and clinicians may need to consider the impact of both disorders on a person's ability to learn and communicate effectively.

Overlapping Symptoms

The symptoms of dyslexia and autism can overlap, making it difficult to diagnose either disorder accurately. For instance, both conditions may involve difficulty with language and communication.

A person with dyslexia may struggle to read or write, while a person with autism may have trouble understanding or using language in social situations.

Similarly, individuals with either disorder may experience difficulties with social interactions and relationships. People with dyslexia may feel isolated or stigmatized due to their learning difficulties, while those with autism may struggle to understand social cues and norms.

These overlapping symptoms can make it challenging for clinicians to identify the primary cause of a person's difficulties. However, accurate diagnosis is essential for providing effective interventions that address the specific needs of each individual.

Early Intervention for Autism and Dyslexia

Early intervention is crucial for individuals with both autism and dyslexia to improve their outcomes. The earlier these disorders are identified, the sooner appropriate interventions can be implemented, leading to better long-term outcomes.

For example, research has shown that early speech therapy can help children with autism improve their communication skills. Similarly, early reading interventions can help children with dyslexia develop their reading abilities.

In addition to improving specific skills, early intervention can also help individuals with autism and dyslexia build self-confidence and reduce feelings of isolation. By providing support and resources early on, individuals with these disorders can learn to navigate the challenges they face more effectively and lead fulfilling lives.

Social Communication Challenges for Individuals with Both Disorders

Individuals with both autism and dyslexia may struggle with social communication, which can impact their ability to learn and interact with others. Difficulties in understanding and using language, interpreting nonverbal cues, and engaging in social interactions are common challenges for people with these disorders.

For example, a person with dyslexia may have trouble following conversations or expressing themselves clearly. They may also struggle to understand sarcasm or jokes that rely on subtle nuances of language.

Similarly, individuals with autism may have difficulty understanding the emotions of others or recognizing social cues such as facial expressions or body language. They may also have trouble initiating or maintaining conversations or engaging in group activities.

The combination of these challenges can make it difficult for individuals with both disorders to form meaningful connections with others and participate fully in social situations.

However, targeted interventions such as social skills training and speech therapy can help them develop the skills they need to communicate effectively and build relationships.

Dyslexia and Understanding Spoken Language

In addition to affecting a person's ability to read, write, and spell, dyslexia can also impact their ability to understand spoken language. This difficulty in processing auditory information can exacerbate communication challenges in individuals with autism who may already struggle with language comprehension.

For example, a person with both dyslexia and autism may have trouble following verbal instructions or understanding complex spoken sentences. They may also have difficulty distinguishing between similar-sounding words or sounds.

These challenges can make it difficult for the person to communicate effectively with others, leading to frustration and isolation.

However, interventions such as speech therapy and specialized reading programs can help individuals with these co-occurring disorders develop the skills they need to improve their language comprehension and communication abilities.

Sensory Processing Issues in Autism and Dyslexia

Sensory processing issues are common in both autism and dyslexia, which can lead to difficulties processing visual or auditory information. Individuals with autism may experience sensory overload or under-sensitivity, where certain sounds, sights, smells, or textures can be overwhelming or uncomfortable.

Similarly, individuals with dyslexia may have difficulty distinguishing between similar-looking letters or words, leading to visual confusion and frustration. This can also impact their ability to process information presented visually, such as charts or diagrams.

These sensory processing issues can make it challenging for individuals with either disorder to learn effectively and communicate clearly. However, interventions such as occupational therapy and assistive technology can help them manage these challenges and improve their overall functioning.

Higher Prevalence of Dyslexia in Individuals with Higher-Functioning Autism

Some researchers have suggested that dyslexia may be more prevalent in individuals with higher-functioning autism than previously thought. This is because individuals with higher-functioning autism may have better language abilities and are thus more likely to be diagnosed with dyslexia.

One study found that over 50% of children with higher-functioning autism also had dyslexia, suggesting a strong link between the two disorders. This finding highlights the importance of screening for both conditions in individuals who present with symptoms of one or the other.

It is still unclear why dyslexia may be more prevalent in individuals with higher-functioning autism, but it may be related to differences in brain development or genetics.

Further research is needed to fully understand the relationship between these two disorders and how best to provide effective interventions for those who experience them both.

Co-Occurrence of Autism and Dyslexia with Other Conditions

In addition to ADHD and anxiety disorders, there are other conditions that may co-occur with autism and dyslexia. For example, individuals with these disorders may also experience depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or Tourette syndrome.

Research studies have shown that there is a higher prevalence of these co-occurring conditions in individuals with autism and dyslexia compared to those without these disorders. This indicates that there may be shared underlying mechanisms or risk factors that contribute to the development of multiple conditions.

It is important for clinicians to be aware of the potential for co-occurring conditions in individuals with autism and dyslexia. Identifying and treating these additional conditions can help improve overall functioning and quality of life for people who experience them.

Identifying the Specific Needs of Individuals with Co-occurring Autism and Dyslexia

Effective interventions for individuals with co-occurring autism and dyslexia require a comprehensive understanding of their specific needs. Comprehensive assessments can help identify the unique challenges and strengths of each individual, leading to more targeted interventions.

Assessments for individuals with co-occurring autism and dyslexia may include evaluations of language abilities, reading skills, sensory processing, social communication, and executive functioning.

These assessments are typically conducted by a team of professionals, including speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, psychologists, and educators.

Language assessments may involve evaluating receptive and expressive language skills in both verbal and nonverbal contexts. Reading assessments may include measures of phonological awareness, decoding ability, comprehension skills, and reading fluency.

Sensory processing assessments may involve evaluating how an individual responds to different sensory stimuli such as sound or touch.

Social communication assessments may evaluate an individual's ability to initiate conversations, understand social cues such as body language or facial expressions, and engage in reciprocal interactions.

Executive functioning assessments may evaluate an individual's ability to plan ahead, organize information, manage time effectively, regulate emotions and behavior, and solve problems.

By conducting these comprehensive assessments, professionals can gain a better understanding of each individual's unique profile of strengths and challenges. This information can then be used to develop targeted interventions that address the specific needs of each person with co-occurring autism and dyslexia.

Collaborative Treatment Planning for Autism and Dyslexia

Educators and clinicians play an important role in supporting individuals with co-occurring autism and dyslexia. Given the unique challenges that these individuals face, it is essential that treatment plans are tailored to their specific needs.

To create effective treatment plans, educators and clinicians should work together to develop comprehensive assessments that identify each individual's strengths, challenges, and areas of need.

This may involve conducting standardized tests or observation-based assessments of language skills, sensory processing abilities, social communication skills, and academic performance.

Once assessment data has been collected, educators and clinicians can collaborate to develop individualized treatment plans that address both the strengths and challenges of each person.

This may involve a combination of speech therapy, reading interventions, occupational therapy, social skills training, assistive technology, and other evidence-based interventions.

By working collaboratively to develop individualized treatment plans for individuals with autism and dyslexia, educators and clinicians can help these individuals reach their full potential and lead fulfilling lives.

The Role of Family Support in Managing Co-Occurring Autism and Dyslexia

Family support is crucial for individuals with co-occurring autism and dyslexia to manage the challenges they face. Family members can play an important role in providing emotional support, helping with daily activities, and advocating for the individual's needs.

For example, family members can help individuals with autism and dyslexia develop strategies for managing sensory overload or anxiety. They can also provide practical support such as helping with homework or attending meetings with educators and clinicians.

In addition to providing direct support, family members can also help create a supportive home environment that promotes learning and growth. This may involve creating routines that reduce stress and anxiety, providing opportunities for social interaction, or setting up a quiet space for reading or studying.

Research studies have shown that family support can have a significant impact on the outcomes of individuals with autism and dyslexia. By working together to address the unique challenges these individuals face, families can help them build self-confidence, improve their skills, and achieve their goals.

However, caring for an individual with co-occurring autism and dyslexia can be challenging, particularly when it comes to navigating complex educational systems or accessing appropriate services.

It is important for families to seek out resources such as support groups or advocacy organizations that can provide guidance and information on available resources.

By working together with educators, clinicians, and other professionals in the community, families can ensure that their loved ones receive the best possible care and support to manage the challenges associated with co-occurring autism and dyslexia.

FAQs about

Is dyslexia more common in individuals with autism than in the general population?

Yes, research studies have shown that up to 40% of individuals with autism also have dyslexia, which is a much higher rate than in the general population.

Can dyslexia cause autism?

No, dyslexia cannot cause autism. While both disorders may co-occur in individuals, they are separate and distinct conditions with different underlying causes.

How do clinicians diagnose co-occurring autism and dyslexia?

Clinicians use a variety of tools and assessments to diagnose both conditions. These may include standardized tests of language and cognitive abilities, observations of social behavior and communication skills, and evaluations of reading and writing abilities.

Can early intervention help improve outcomes for individuals with both autism and dyslexia?

Yes, early intervention is crucial for improving outcomes for individuals with both disorders. Early identification and intervention can help address specific difficulties related to language, communication, reading, and social interaction.


While the question of whether autism causes dyslexia is still not fully understood, it is clear that there is a significant link between the two disorders. Understanding this link can help clinicians and educators provide more effective interventions for individuals with both autism and dyslexia.