Autism and Dyslexia: Similarities & Differences

Both autism and dyslexia can be classified as neurodevelopmental conditions with rising prevalence amongst children.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
September 20, 2023
min read

Autism and Dyslexia: How Do They Compare?

When your child is diagnosed with autism, it is natural to wonder if other symptoms are related to their diagnosis. Language and communication issues are part of autism, but language and communication issues are also common in conditions such as dyslexia.

If your child is diagnosed with dyslexia, you may be wondering if it is connected to their autism. Of course, you may wonder the same if the diagnosis is reversed.

In this guide, you can learn about the similarities, differences and spectrum of autism and dyslexia.

Similarities and Differences

You want to start by learning the similarities and differences between autism and dyslexia. This way, you can pinpoint which symptom is a sign of which condition, which is especially helpful if your child has not received an official diagnosis yet.

Similarities Between Autism and Dyslexia

Both autism and dyslexia are life-long neurodevelopmental disorders. The most common signs in both conditions are communication issues and delayed speech.

Differences Between Autism and Dyslexia

Each condition has its own symptoms beyond communication issues. For example, autistic children may display repetitive behaviors, difficulty socializing and sensory issues.

Children who are dyslexic face challenges with reading, spelling, decoding and word recognition. These symptoms may manifest into low self-esteem, anxiety or depression.

Autism Symptoms

You may notice the following symptoms in your autistic child.

  1. Communication problems, such as not responding or making eye contact.
  2. Repetitive behavior, including rocking or repeating the same phrase.
  3. Emotional development issues, such as not understanding their feelings.
  4. Sensory issues, including problems with certain tastes, smells, lights, noises and areas.
  5. Difficulties understanding social cues, such as taking hints, reading body language or understanding sarcasm.

Dyslexia Symptoms

If your child is dyslexic, you may notice these symptoms.

  1. Communication problems, including delayed speech or difficulty reading aloud.
  2. Problems with word processing, such as forgetting words, learning new words or finding the right words when speaking.
  3. Short-term memory, including difficulty remembering numbers, letters and colors.
  4. Disorganized writing, such as constant spelling and grammar mistakes.
  5. Difficulty focusing because of the effort they must put into a task.

Contrary to popular belief, reading letters or symbols in reverse is not common for everyone with dyslexia. Some children may experience reversal issues, but it is not a challenge that all dyslexic children face.

Early Signs: Dyslexia vs. Autism

If you are like many parents of dyslexic or autistic children, you want to look into early interventions to improve their quality of life.

While you know the symptoms of dyslexia and autism, it is important to learn the early signs of these conditions. The earlier you notice a sign of a neurodevelopmental disorder, the earlier you can find a way to diagnose and treat the symptoms.

Early Signs of Dyslexia

The following list includes several early signs of dyslexia.

  1. Difficulty learning, singing or reciting the alphabet and nursery rhymes.
  2. Confuses directional words, such as up and down or in and out.
  3. Mixes up the sounds of common words, such as calling a butterfly a "flutterby" or spaghetti "pasghetti."
  4. Difficulty sitting still and paying attention, and this includes during storytime.
  5. Displays slow speech development because their mind needs time to catch up or find the correct words.

Early Signs of Autism

On this list, you can find a few early signs of autism.

  1. Does not respond to their name by the time they are nine months old.
  2. Uses few or no gestures to communicate by 12 months. For example, they may not wave to say "hello" or "goodbye."
  3. Does not notice when others are sad, angry or hurt by 24 months.
  4. Lack of socialization by 36 months, such as not joining play groups.
  5. Does not engage in imaginative games where they pretend to be someone or something else by 48 months.

These lists include just a few of the early signs of both conditions. In both autism and dyslexia, children may reach developmental milestones later in life.

Could Dyslexia Be A Comorbidity Of An Autism Spectrum Disorder?

While it is difficult to determine which condition is responsible for the other, it is possible for your child to have both autism and dyslexia. They are both categorized as neurodevelopmental conditions, and both autism and dyslexia can appear in young children.

It is easier to identify the symptoms that occur in both conditions when they are thoroughly researched.

The most common symptom of both autism and dyslexia is difficulty communicating, such as lack of expression in autism or vague terms in dyslexia.

The next few sections include more details about how the early signs of autism and dyslexia compare to one another.

Late-Talking or Delayed Language Acquisition

Late-talking or delayed language acquisition are the earliest signs of autism and dyslexia.

If your child is autistic, they may start showing signs when they are as young as nine months to two years old.

Children with dyslexia usually start showing these signs when they are about five or six years old. This is when most children start learning to read, write and process words.

Challenges And Difficulties In Learning Sounds, Letters, and Sight Words

If your child has not started talking by 15 months, it is best to keep an eye on them for further signs of dyslexia. Your child may display these signs even when they are preschool or school-age.

  1. Using baby talk even when they are over 15 months.
  2. Difficulty recognizing letters and words.
  3. Constantly mispronouncing common words.
  4. Difficulty with following directions, sequences and logical order.

These signs are in addition to the early signs mentioned in this guide, and they can lead to frustration as your child is learning to read and write.

Autism is known as a spectrum disorder because the symptoms and severity vary per person.

For instance, some children communicate and even learn a foreign language, while other children remain nonverbal or nonvocal and have issues with socializing.

Reading, Spelling and Handwriting Difficulties

Reading can be challenging for dyslexic children because the parts of their brains that process language are not the same as other children.

When it comes to working around the dyslexic symptoms, telling a child to "just try harder" is frustrating and harmful. Your child is most likely trying as hard as possible to keep up with their reading, spelling and writing.

Instead, dyslexic children need patience and understanding as they process words and letters. They may also need alternatives to reading, such as listening to an audiobook.

The wide spectrum of autism puts children on various levels of reading. There are some autistic children who find it difficult to learn letters, sounds and words. Other children master these elements and excel at reading.

Confusing letters and words make it difficult for some dyslexic children to spell, while some autistic children have difficulty spelling because they think with pictures instead of words.

Additionally, trouble with handwriting can apply to both autistic and dyslexic children.


You may still have questions about autism and dyslexia, but these frequently asked questions may help you find the answers you need.

Can Dyslexia Be Mistaken For Autism?

The similarities make it easy for people to mistake dyslexia for autism. While both affect your child's way of thinking, these are two different conditions that affect different parts of the brain.

Can You Be Autistic And Dyslexic At The Same Time?

Yes, an autistic person can also have dyslexia. However, more scientific research is required to understand the connection between these two conditions and whether one condition is responsible for the other.

Does Having Dyslexia Count As Being On The Spectrum?

Dyslexia is a spectrum disorder made up of various neuropsychological dysfunctions. Just like with autism, this means the symptoms and severity may vary per person. For example, one dyslexic child may have more difficulty reading and spelling than another dyslexic child.

Is Dyslexia A Social Issue?

While autism is a social issue because of the communication and emotional challenges, dyslexia does not have to be a social issue for children. Early intervention and a positive learning environment make it possible for dyslexic children to go through life with minimal social issues.

It is natural to wonder if your autistic child also has dyslexia, especially if they are showing signs of speech delay or reading and spelling challenges.

There is a connection between autism and dyslexia, and both of these conditions cause children to process what they learn at different paces. Luckily, these conditions can be treated or intervened early to improve various areas of your child's life.

Once you learn the similarities and differences between autism and dyslexia, you can work with your child's therapist to find a treatment or coping skill that is right for them.

steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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