Autism and Learning Disabilities: What Can I Do To Help My Child?

school desk

This article was contributed by Kathleen Dolbee, a parent, educator, and ASNC Autism Resource Specialist.

What can you do if in addition to autism, your child seems to have a learning disability?

If your child already has an IEP, ask for a meeting of the IEP team, explain your concerns and present whatever evidence you might have to support them. Such evidence might include medical or educational evaluations but could also include anecdotal information and samples of classwork or homework. Ask for additional evaluations to determine whether a learning disability is present. Remember, a learning disability is indicated when there is a clinically significant discrepancy between what your child is capable of doing and his actual performance. Once the evaluations have been completed, another meeting will be scheduled to discuss the results.

Enlist his teacher’s help. Some additional accommodations might prove helpful, such as preferential seating and additional time. Executive function deficit might be an issue, so keeping a second set of books at home might help with disorganization and forgetfulness. If such accommodations prove effective, make sure they are included in your child’s IEP or 504.

At home, endeavor to create a learning environment. Consistently use a flexible daily schedule and include short daily reading sessions of 15 minutes to a half-hour. Your child will be more enthusiastic about reading sessions if you provide books and magazine to choose from that are highly interesting to him. If your child has dyslexia, try reading out loud to him while he follows along. Then re-read the same text out loud together. Then have your child read it by himself. Try using a ruler or index card under each line as he reads and highlight difficult words.

Teach math in practical, fun ways, through cooking or carpentry. Try using graph paper to help prevent misalignment of numbers. Use diagrams, tally marks and other visual or manipulative strategies to demonstrate abstract concepts in concrete ways. Break big projects into smaller, actionable tasks so that he can experience the pride of succeeding.

Most important, protect your child’s self-esteem by building on his strengths and offering meaningful praise.

Kathleen Dolbee can be reached by email at


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