Autism and Learning Disability Diagnosis?

Hello, First time I have posted on here but this is something I keep thinking about regarding my son, a bit of background for you: 

My son is 5years old, he was diagnosed with Autism at 3years. He went through EHCP process for school placements and was placed at a school for children with severe and profound learning disability's.

While he attends this school, he isn't formally diagnosed as having learning disability's, I do not dispute he has this and quite severely but has anyone's child had a separate diagnosis of this? sometimes I feel his learning disability actually outweighs his autistic 'traits' but when I have queried this with consultants they have said it is not a medical diagnosis and would have to be made by his educational setting, whereas the school say the fact that he goes to the school is enough to deduce that he has a severe learning difficulty. Maybe I am looking for answers to questions that aren't there as I know not every person with Autism has a learning difficulty, but if they do should a separate diagnosis be given?

Thank you in advance to anyone who reads/responds

  • Hi Emily,

    I think I understand your query correctly.

    In my understanding, a learning disability is generally (extremely loosely) defined as an individual with an I.Q of below 70.

    And you are right; you can have Autism without having a learning disability.

    However, I don’t personally know if you can have a ‘learning disability’ without having some other primary diagnosis, such as ASD.

    Usually an Educational Psychology Assessment, which includes Psychometric Testing, is used to establish whether a learning disability is present (in individuals on the spectrum) and if so to what extent and what specific areas are affected. In this respect, an individual’s levels of ‘learning disability’ can be ‘measured.’

    However, an EdPsych Assessment is not usually seen as a separate ‘formal diagnosis.’ This is because, in my personal experience, an individual’s learning disability tends to be seen as linked (or an inseparable part of) or the 'result of,' their primary (actual) diagnosis, i.e. their Autism.

    In this respect, an Educational Psychologist tends not to ‘formally diagnose’ in the same way a Clinical Psychologist does, but instead an EdPsych Assessment investigates an individual’s specific areas of (learning) difficulty, (such as how, where and to what extent the learning difficulties/’disability’ manifests and affects them) in order to understand further how they can be best helped (specifically) in an educational setting. In this respect I believe your Consultant was right; establishing the nature and extent of a ‘learning disability’ is therefore not deemed to be a ‘medical’ diagnosis as such. And, I believe, is therefore not seen as a 'separate entity' from their 'overarching' primary 'formal' diagnosis.

    Again, I therefore think your Consultant was also correct in that EdPsych Assessments are usually arranged via your child’s school rather than via the clinical (‘medical’) diagnostic team. I would have liked to imagine that some sort of Educational Psychology Report would have been undertaken for your son during the creation of his EHC Plan. However, if it wasn’t, your son’s school can arrange for an Educational Psychology Assessment to take place.

    My only caveat to this information is that, as your son is so young, I am not sure what the process of an EdPsych Assessment would involve or include (I only really know about HF teens.) And therefore I don’t know whether your son is currently too young to have Psychometric tests done to establish the exact nature or extent of his learning disability, or whether there may be some equivalent tests used for little ones. It is also possible that, with LF individuals, perhaps the 'severity' of their difficulties mean they are not able to be accurately or effectively 'separately' assessed by an EdPsych? (Again, I only really know about HF Teens.)

    However, I do think that it would be best practice if your son’s school took your concerns on board, and arranged an EdPsych Assessment (if possible) if this is something you are very worried about or feel could really benefit your son. I agree with you that the fact your son attends this special school is not necessarily evidence enough of his specific and individual learning challenges, difficulties or needs, which may be better identified via an EdPsych Assessment. However, it is also possible that, with LF (as you say ‘severe’) individuals, particularly perhaps with those still so young too, perhaps your son’s school do not currently see the value of determining the specific nature of his individual learning disabilities ‘separate’ from his ‘generalised’ ASD.

    May I therefore please ask, as I am simply curious, what are your thoughts and hopes with regards to wanting to establish that your son’s difficulties are more due to a ‘standalone learning disability,’ rather than being seen as an inseparable part of his particular Autism?