How Does Autism Affect Learning?

Scientific research has improved our understanding of autism and has led to more targeted interventions that have the goal of empowering people with this multifaceted condition. Find out how autism may affect learning and explore methods that may be beneficial for many people with the condition.
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Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that often has a varying impact on the lives of both children and adults. This condition may result in different symptoms and behaviours that may create unique challenges in a range of day-to-day aspects. One crucial area that often requires attention is learning. 

Autism may impact a person’s ability to learn due to a range of communication and behavioural difficulties or deficits. Learning is not only relevant in the school setting but also extends to tertiary education and workplace and personal development. Subsequently, finding appropriate methods and support that incorporate specific needs and goals has the potential to make a significant difference in acquiring information, developing skills, increasing independence, and contributing to society. 

Scientific research has improved our understanding of autism and has led to more targeted interventions that have the goal of empowering people with this multifaceted condition. Find out how autism may affect learning and explore methods that may be beneficial for many people with the condition. 

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder? 

As a complex developmental disorder, autism typically affects a person’s ability to process information, which may have a significant impact on their social and learning abilities. 

The condition is also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) because it encompasses a broad variety of symptoms. This diverse and extensive range differs from person to person with individuals sitting somewhere on the spectrum. Some people may lead relatively independent lives with autism, while others may have symptoms that mean they require more support. Subsequently, there is no one-size-fits-all diagnostic and treatment approach. 

The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne states that for every 100 Australians, one to two are on the autism spectrum. The condition has a genetic component, meaning that more than one family member may deal with various challenges. Autism may present in people with one or more other learning disabilities or health conditions, which may further impact their learning capacity. This could include disorders such as ADHD, dyslexia, or epilepsy. 

Although the condition often affects learning ability, it is not a learning disability. Furthermore, autistic people often have average or above-average intelligence. The key characteristics of autism typically impact a person’s learning ability because of the effects on their communication and behaviour. This may include: 

  • Speech and language issues.
  • Non-verbal communication issues.
  • Repetitive behaviours.
  • Restricted or hyper-focused interests.
  • Misplaced social interactions.
  • Difficulty coping with change. 
  • Dependency on strict routines.
  • Impaired ability to understand emotions.
  • Reduced empathy.
  • Sensory sensitivities.
  • Literal thinking. 

The Ways Autism May Impact Learning And Development 

Autistic people often obtain knowledge and develop skills at different speeds and in varying orders than people without autism. It has the potential to impact their ability to learn in various fields and areas. This may involve aspects such as academic, social, communication, sensory, executive function, behavioural, emotional, and adaptive learning. 

This may go on to have mild to profound effects on day-to-day life and long-term goals and outcomes. Having trouble with learning may also lead to feelings such as frustration and low self-esteem, especially when trying to keep up with classroom or workplace peers.  

That said, autistic people often have abilities and interests that can have positive trajectories if supported correctly. Having autism does not automatically mean that learning will be a struggle in all areas. Some aspects of autism may in fact have positive impacts on a person’s learning, so it is important to be aware of these strengths and harness them. With evidence-based, comprehensive, and tailored support and interventions from trained and experienced professionals, there is the potential for many autistic people to take advantage of their learning capabilities. 

Identifying how a person’s specific symptoms affect their learning ability is key. At Neurosensory, we offer educational and remedial teaching methods and therapy for autistic children and adults. We identify areas that require attention and develop personalised learning plans. Aspects we may focus on during our educational support, depending on specific needs and goals, may include the following: 

Developmental Delays 

Autistic people may have developmental delays. This may include delays in the following areas: 

  • Sensorimotor development.
  • Speech and language development.
  • Socioemotional development. 
  • Cognitive development. 

Not all autistic people have developmental delays. An autism diagnosis may come after these delays are identified in those who do, rather than the other way around. For example, a parent or teacher may notice certain milestones are not being reached, which may initiate autism assessment and screening. Early intervention during childhood for developmental delays and ongoing support throughout adulthood may be advantageous. 

Reduced Concentration 

A lack of concentration can affect anybody at various times throughout the learning process, but autistic people may face specific and ongoing issues with keeping their focus on a certain task. Decreased concentration may occur especially when the activity or information involves topics or aspects that are outside of the person’s interests. 

Having sensory sensitivities, which is a component for many autistic people, may further compound the issue, particularly in a setting like a classroom. The tendency of some autistic people to focus acutely on specific details rather than seeing the bigger picture may also impact their ability to concentrate on the task at hand. Autism may be accompanied by conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or anxiety in some people, which may add to the difficulties regarding concentration. 

Information Processing Difficulties 

Autism may hinder some people’s ability to process information. This may lead to issues with interpretation, comprehension, retention, and recall. Aspects that may be affected by information processing issues include: 

  • Organising one’s own thoughts and ideas.
  • Planning tasks and activities.
  • Time management.
  • Academic learning, such as maths and writing.
  • Executive functioning skills, such as problem-solving and completing tasks.
  • Impulse control.
  • Adaptive skills, such as managing responsibilities and self-care.
  • Following instructions and directions.

Sensory Processing Difficulties 

Dealing with sensory input may be problematic for many autistic people. This may involve aspects such as increased sensitivity to sounds and sights, which means that typical educational settings may be distracting or overwhelming. This hypersensitivity may also impact aspects such as focus, self-control, and interpreting non-verbal cues like body language. 

Communication Issues 

Communication may be a difficult area to navigate for autistic people. Some people have no or minimal communication challenges, while others may not speak at all.  

Communication difficulties may present in ways such as: 

  • Speech and language deficits.
  • Off-topic discussion.
  • Difficulty starting and conveying ideas and thoughts.
  • Reduced ability to maintain a conversation.
  • Trouble with interpreting metaphors and idioms.
  • Difficulty creating or keeping relationships, and social isolation. 

Some autistic people may have trouble understanding nonverbal cues such as facial expressions and gestures. They may also struggle to maintain eye contact.  

Reduced Social Skills 

Many symptoms of autism, such as communication deficits and difficulties in interpreting other people’s emotions, may lead to reduced social skills. This may impact learning, classroom engagement, and motivation for a variety of reasons, such as difficulties with: 

  • Engaging with other students.
  • Following instructions from teachers.
  • Comprehending other people’s perspectives.
  • Interpreting social cues and norms.
  • Understanding interpersonal relationship dynamics. 

What is The Multisensory Learning Approach?

At Neurosensory, we employ the Orton Gillingham multisensory approach to learning. This method combines auditory, visual, and kinaesthetic strategies in a personalised program to support the treatment of a wide variety of issues that may affect learning, including autism. The goal is to employ and develop multiple neural pathways to encourage information to pass from short to long-term memory to enable better understanding and recall. This is worked on by combining the use of two or more senses at the same time while learning.


Our team uses psychometric tests in an effort to identify learning difficulties, weaknesses, strengths, and progress. We use this information to develop a personalised plan for each student, to provide recommendations and advice to educational bodies, and to adapt the plan as required.  

Development Plans

Learning is a unique experience. Every person differs in their needs, interests, and goals. That is why it is important for learning support to be individualised. At Neurosensory, we tailor a multisensory development plan using evidence-based techniques, with the aim of helping students reduce or overcome their challenges.

How Can Multisensory Learning Help With Autism? 

Standard education methods may not be suitable for some autistic people. This may be due to reasons such as its structure, inflexibility, and focus on either listening or reading. 

Multisensory learning opens up the possibilities of learning by using different activities, tasks, resources, and strategies that may suit a student’s capabilities, interests, and goals more appropriately. This is backed by comprehensive and expanding research and is a popular approach worldwide. We utilise our students’ unique abilities and interests as catalysts for growth and development and work to engage each person in immersive, diverse, reinforcing, and encouraging ways. 


Gain Learning Support From Experienced, Passionate Tutors 

The team at Neurosensory is committed to helping each of our students with their goals. By creating personalised programs, our MSL tutors utilise various techniques that may develop students’ skills and reduce learning difficulties. We offer in-person tutoring in a friendly, relaxed, and engaging environment that accommodates needs such as following routines and sensory adaptations. We also provide online tutoring and learning support options to assist people who cannot attend classes or find the online mode of learning preferable.  

If you are seeking educational support and remedial therapy for yourself or a loved one, we encourage you to contact us to discuss the options available and to organise an initial assessment. 



About the author
Antonia Canaris

Antonia Canaris

Founder of Neurosensory, Antonia Canaris is an experienced educator and a leading expert in multisensory learning.

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