LD & Asperger’s: Key Differences?


Can you please explain the difference between learning disabilities and Asperger’s Syndrome? There seems to be a lot of overlap, and I’m worried that my son, who has LD might really have Asperger’s.

T. Raphael, Pueblo, Colorado

Ask the Experts Marcia Brown Rubinstien, MA, CEP Marcia Rubinstien, a lifelong advocate for children with learning disabilities, an expert on NLD, and a member of the Smart Kids Professional Advisory Board recently passed away. To honor her memory, we will be sharing many of her contributions to Smart Kids as this year unfolds.

Children with learning disabilities and Asperger’s Syndrome sometimes share behaviors, which can be confusing to parents and other nonprofessionals. Below are some guidelines to help you distinguish between the two. But be aware that while we can offer some basic guidance, your child will be best served by seeing a professional who will work with you and him to come up with a diagnosis and treatment plan.

Clues to LD

When the learning problems of children with LD are not addressed, they may engage in impulsive or risk-taking actions, inappropriate classroom behavior, or associate with low-achieving peers.

Constant frustration with learning tasks can trigger a range of behaviors including boredom and seeming carelessness; school withdrawal or avoidance; disorganization, inattention or sloppiness; slow response to questions; and physical symptoms of stress (e.g., headaches or stomach aches).

Clues to Asperger’s Syndrome

Children with Asperger’s Syndrome often exhibit unique characteristics before formal schooling begins. Even as preschoolers they may be different than their peers in social situations, speech, language, communication, daily behaviors and routines, and general maturation and development.

When children with Asperger’s Syndrome begin formal schooling they are usually impatient with the concerns of others. Despite a high IQ, they can look impulsive or emotionally unregulated, often failing to comprehend basic directions or procedures.

Asperger’s Syndrome is often mistaken for ADHD or LD because many of those affected have trouble focusing and abiding by rules they interpret as illogical. Because they seem too bright to be unaware of typical demands, they are sometimes viewed as arrogant or oppositional. They can also develop school phobia or behaviors related to low self-esteem, difficulty with novelty or transition, extreme literal interpretation, and easily triggered anxiety. If treated appropriately, however, their intelligence, exceptional focus, and specific talents can lessen school anxiety and support high academic performance.

Regardless of a child’s diagnosis—whether LD, Asperger’s Syndrome, or both—fundamental educational principles provide the keys to success. Parents and educators should search for schools that offer consistent understanding, individualized accommodation, and compassion. Settings with those attributes will always be the right settings for students with unique learning profiles.

Tell-Tale Signs

Suspect LD if your child...

  • Works hard but gets poor grades
  • Needs constant, step by step guidance
  • Cannot solve problems, remember steps, comprehend tasks, or understand logic
  • Has poor memory
  • Has difficulty with reading, writing or math
  • Is frustrated by school and homework
  • Has low self-esteem

Suspect Asperger’s if your child...

  • Has difficulty making or sustaining eye contact
  • Is isolated from family members and peers
  • Doesn’t understand the perspectives of others
  • Has trouble discussing feelings (his own or others’)
  • Is interested in people, but lacks social skills
  • Has an obsessive arcane interest
  • Has a highly developed vocabulary with formal or peculiar speech patterns
  • Is clumsy, uncoordinated or unaware of personal space
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