Autism and Dyslexia

Many people wonder about the co-morbidity between autism and dyslexia.  Autism is an illness that causes social interaction issues and communication problems in the sufferers, while dyslexia causes children to have difficulty learning to read and write.  However, it seems these two afflictions have much in common and can potentially occur together.

Both autism and dyslexia can occur on a spectrum, that is, both of these conditions can be less or more severe depending on the child and diagnosis.  For example, severe cases of autism can prevent those who have it from communicating using words and they require special technology to communicate via symbols or pictures.  Additionally, dyslexia can be more or less severe and, in many cases, can go overlooked or undiagnosed.

Additionally, both diseases are known to be based in the brain and affect neural processes and chemical communication between neurons.  The exact cause of both of these illnesses is unknown but in both cases it affects processing.

It has been hypothesized that there are shared genetic causes of both autism and dyslexia.  Researchers in 2010 found that people affected with either disorders had “missing” segments of DNA on the same two chromosomes.  Instead of coding for the proteins necessary for the neural processing involved in reading or, for autistic subjects, interpersonal communication, the proteins were missing or, at best, inactive.  What’s interesting about this is that the same missing DNA was found in autistic subjects as in dyslexic subjects, but was not found at all in subjects pulled from the general population.  This suggests that there is possibly a genetic predisposition one can have toward having dyslexia or autism.  However, this doesn’t guarantee someone with this mutation will have one or either of these conditions, it just shows that this genetic marker may signal a higher probability of this problem.

Other environmental and physical issues, such as pollution or stomach problems, have been correlated with the conditions.  While autism can be a condition from birth when a baby fails to develop at the pace expected, it also can be “regressive.”  A child who has been developing normally can suddenly regress and lose verbal or physical skills he or she had previously demonstrated.  Generally, dyslexia is considered to be a disorder that begins at birth, but is only recognized when a child is in school learning to read.

The cause of autism and dyslexia, while well documented and often diagnosed, are still shrouded in mystery.  It is not certain how either condition is caused and it seems that there are many symptoms that can characterize both of them.  For instance, dyslexia is often described as a visual processing disorder where the person with the condition doesn’t “see” the word or sentence correctly.  Some studies suggest that dyslexia is caused by an inability of the brain to process moving images in the same way as the general population.  Many others describe the condition as a difficulty determining “phonemes” or sounds made by the letters in a word.  It’s possible that both these definitions are somewhat correct, which leads to a further obfuscation of the true cause behind the disorder.

Often, due to the varying spectrum of dyslexia “symptoms” teachers and parents confuse dyslexia with laziness, lack of motivation, or being only slightly behind.  Generally, children with dyslexia are of average or even above average intelligence and only struggle in the subjects that require extensive reading and writing.

Since autism occurs on a spectrum as well, it can often be misidentified as “awkwardness” and difficulty socializing at their age level.  Like dyslexia, children affected with mild symptoms of autism or Asperger’s (a less-invasive form of autism) can be seen as just a little behind their peers.  However, due to a boom in diagnosis in recent years, more and more children with the disorder are recognized and treated.

Unlike children with autism, who can’t help their symptoms from showing, especially if they have severe iteration of the condition, children with dyslexia can often hide their condition deftly.  It can be hard to diagnose a child with the disorder because they often adopt strategies that mask their difficulties.  This is one major difference between the disorders and could account for a difference in the rates of correct diagnoses.

Children with dyslexia don’t process written words (and some believe it may also have an auditory component), but other than this difficulty, affected children are of average or above average intelligence.  This differs slightly from autism.  Though many children with Asperger’s are of average or even above average intelligence, other forms of autism are often co-morbid with Intellectual Disability.  These children do not learn at the same speed as other children their age.  This is another major difference between autism and dyslexia.

Luckily both autism and dyslexia are treatable and symptoms can be mitigated, especially when diagnosed early.  While conventional teaching doesn’t work for students with dyslexia, when the disorder is recognized, children can become literate with special help and attention.  Autism, as well, may be treated successfully with intensive treatment.  Autistic children also need to learn many social skills that come to other children naturally.  It is important to note that the effectiveness of treatments depends upon both how early it begins, and the severity of the condition.


  1. There’s no cure for dyslexia. It’s a lifelong condition caused by inherited traits that affect how your brain works. However, most children with dyslexia can succeed in school with tutoring or a specialized education program. Emotional support also plays an important role. `..”;

    Esperanza Hulvey

  2. This article has a few problems..
    “…… both of these conditions can be less or more severe depending on the child and diagnosis.” – The severity of the condition doesn’t depend on the diagnosis.
    “…Luckily both autism and dyslexia are treatable…” The symptoms can be mitigated but the conditions are not treatable.
    Given the very limited evidence it should be made clear that while autism and dyslexia are both on spectra the are on different spectra.

  3. I just read this article and would have to agree with the comment above. Both dyslexia and autism are neurological conditions, which unlike disease, cannot be cured. I myself have dyslexia, and find it a bit offensive to hear it refereed to as a disease. Although I have faced many challenges in my life due to dyslexia, I have found that having a brain that is “wired” a little differently, I have had the opportunity to provide creative solutions to seemingly impossible problems.

    People with dyslexia don’t need curing, they just need other to understand that they just don’t always process information the same way. Try presenting things differently (maybe hands on for example), and you may realize, that they have a better grasp of then you initially thought.

    Remember Einstein? Its believed he was dyslexic.

    1. i to am dislexic and what you say rings true for me some days are better and my mind is clear and some total confusion quite annoying but easily can see solutions to problems and also watch something for 2 mins on fast forward and ive got that no problems dislexic people should teach dislexic people i kept my kids out of school a lot as school makes dislexic people feel stupid which of cousre they are not nor im sure is it a deseas

  4. Amen Taylor I agree… My daughter and myself deal with a world that experiences life different from us. We are not wrong, bad or even diseased, no we are unique and add life to those who care to listen. The problem plays in when we start to listen to those who do not understand. I deal with this more than my daughter. But all in all we are blessed to have two point of reference not just one. Thank you for sharing, it refreshed my soul.

  5. This article is from 2013, a lot more is known about ASD now than even then. Neither is a disease, both often mean that one needs to learn coping mechanisms, and they are certainly lifelong. Dyslexia has in very odd instances been found to affect people in only one language, I believe ASD is regardless of culture.

    I say this as someone who is diagnosed as dyslexic but never had a diagnosis for ASD (although very strong suspicions from myself and my surrounding loved ones, as well as random people from the internet who have ASD, and think I may well as well).

  6. I am dyslexic.And, I find it fun.It is bother-some to some. I find that other people don’t appreciate I Better yet they just don’t understand I. I don’t know which of us are the retarded ones. I found that article about autism, and dyslexia confusing.But, I guess that is from being dyslexic,People at this home don’t understand what I am saying, they say. But, we still communicate. I mean we carry on conversations. I am dyslexic, autistic, and, asperger.I am on my own. I am going to become someone, though.

  7. Kris – I am absolutely certain you ARE going to become someone — clearly are already on your way! Please never let anyone discourage you or try to change you — just follow your heart and your dreams! I can tell you this from experience because I, too am dyslexic and most likely autistic, yet I finally completed my master’s degree and hope to pursue a PhD at a very late stage in life – because I listened to the wrong people early on, but never gave up. We do not need to be ‘cured’ – rather, we have gifts that others may never understand (their loss). ~ Follow your heart and make your dreams come true! ~

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