Is Autism a Disability?


Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurological disorder that is also considered a developmental disability. The symptoms of ASD are measured on a spectrum from subtle and mild symptoms to severe cognitive and developmental delays.

Patients with Autism Spectrum Disorder display symptoms such as delayed speech, difficulties with verbal communication and understanding language, repetitive and purposeless behaviors, and challenges with social interactions and forming relationships. Because of the complexity of the disorder and its ability to manifest as subtle or severe symptoms Autism Spectrum Disorder can sometimes be challenging to diagnose.

While these traits can help with diagnosis in childhood, they can still lead to various challenges that extend into adulthood.

Get Treatment Today

How Is Autism Diagnosed?

Diagnosing ASD isn’t as simple as a blood test or physical medical exam. Instead, doctors rely on your descriptions of your child’s behavior and development, along with their careful observations of your child’s behavior in order to evaluate whether they exhibit ASD. Early detection and diagnosis of ASD are important because they can help you get the support your child needs as early on in their development as possible.

To evaluate for ASD, your pediatrician may ask questions about your child’s development and behavioral patterns such as how they play, communicate, learn, and act. This can happen over the course of several visits with the pediatrician, or it may be a quicker process, depending on your child’s unique circumstances and developmental progress. As a parent, it’s up to you to voice your concerns about any developmental or cognitive issues you observe in your child so their pediatrician can help you form a treatment and support plan.

Since autism is a broad spectrum disorder (meaning symptoms can manifest in a variety of ways rather than according to set criteria), a diagnosis can include the following disorders, all included within the autism spectrum:

  • Asperger’s Syndrome
  • Rhett Syndrome
  • Kanner’s Syndrome
  • Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD)
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)

While these disorders can show symptoms unique to the condition, they are all considered as autism disorders and fall on the spectrum. Some symptoms of autism are more subtle than others, and in these cases can be considered as high-functioning autism, whereas more pronounced symptoms often come with more severe forms of the disorder like PDD or Rhett’s.

Is Autism a Learning Disability?

is autism a disability

Image via Pixabay by hatice97erol

Autism is not considered a learning disability, although ASD can cause symptoms that can affect a child’s ability to process and synthesize information, making learning new concepts difficult. Because of this, children with autism can qualify for special education accommodations and will commonly have a behavioral therapist to support them in school and academics.

Special education covers 13 different types of disabilities, including a category of Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD). Autism makes up another category for special education purposes, but ASD isn’t included with the SLD categories.

Even though autism isn’t an SLD, children with ASD may have difficulties with their academic skills, including mathematics, reading, and writing skills, similar to a learning disability. Because ASD is a cognitive disorder, it impacts how children develop, which can spill over into their learning abilities. Therefore, the strategies that teachers, therapists, and doctors use with students with an ASD diagnosis can differ from the strategies to support students with learning disabilities.

That said, autism can present alongside an SLD, and in these cases, children need a support system that provides strategies for both ASD and the learning disability. However, ASD and learning disabilities are not exclusive to each other, meaning you can have one without the other.

Another key difference between autism and an SLD is that autism can manifest quite differently from one patient to the next. For instance, some children have severe language deficits while others with ASD may not. In a learning disability, such as dyslexia, the symptoms generally appear the same among learning disabled students.

It’s important to note that autism and SLDs can exhibit some overlapping characteristics, including:

  • Lifelong symptoms of both ASD and SLD.
  • Both ASD and SLDs have no cure.
  • Early detection and diagnosis can result in earlier intervention and support for both disorders.
  • Both ASD and SLDs can present issues in sensory processing, emotional and behavioral self-regulation, and difficulties with socialization.

Is Autism Considered a Disability on Taxes?

The short answer is “yes,” the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) does cover children with autism as a disability, but the process is a bit more complex than merely claiming the EITC on your tax return. First, an ASD diagnosis is not enough by itself to qualify a child for the EITC, and the IRS has specific criteria that the child must meet for their disorder to qualify as a disability. The IRS defines “disability” for the purposes of the EITC as “The child cannot engage in any substantial gainful activity because of a physical or mental condition and it is medically determined that the condition has lasted or can be expected to last at least a year or lead to death.”

Along with these criteria, the IRS evaluates your circumstances with a series of qualifying tests including:

  • Age test: There is no age limit for a qualifying child with a disability, as long as there is proof the child is permanently and completely disabled, such as a neuropsychological assessment from a medical professional.
  • Relationship test: The qualifying child must be your son or daughter, stepchild, foster child, or adopted child.
  • Residency test: The child must live with you for the majority of the tax year.

There may be additional eligibility requirements for claiming the EITC for a child with disabilities, depending on your income, tax filing status, or other criteria that the IRS outlines.

Autism screenings have become regular evaluations during early childhood, and pediatricians now regularly perform ASD screenings as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all children should receive an ASD screening at both their 18-month and 24-month checkup visits. For more information, or if you have additional questions about autism, contact us here at NeuroHealth Arlington Heights to learn how our services can help provide support for you and your child.

Get Treatment Today