Is Autism Mental Retardation?

Last Updated
May 1, 2023
autism spelled out on a blackboard with the heading Is Autism Mental Retardation

Is Autism Mental Retardation?
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Autism is not the same as mental retardation. Autism is a developmental condition that affects how a person communicates, interacts with others, and experiences the world around them. While some people with autism may have difficulties in learning or intellectual disabilities, many have average or above-average intelligence.

Many people wonder if autism spectrum disorder is the same as mental retardation. The simple answer is NO!

To support this fact, read this quick explanation of what these conditions mean. Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that affects communication, social interactions, and behavior. It is a pervasive developmental disorder that affects brain development and comes with a broad spectrum of mild to severe symptoms. [1]

However, mental retardation is a common but often misunderstood condition that affects people's intellectual and adaptive functioning regardless of age and background. It can be caused by a range of factors, from genetic abnormalities to environmental influences, and the symptoms vary depending on the severity of the condition. [2]

This article will explore the similarities and differences between autism and mental retardation and how they are diagnosed and treated.

6 Similarities Between Autism and Mental Retardation

Child with autism

Here are some similarities between autism and mental retardation:

  1. Both conditions involve delays in the development of communication and social skills. Autistic People often have difficulty expressing themselves verbally, while people with mental retardation may struggle with understanding and responding to others.
  2. Both conditions can also lead to difficulties with problem-solving, reasoning, and abstract thinking.
  3. People with either condition may have difficulty forming relationships with family members and other children.
  4. Autistic children and individuals with mental retardation have difficulty paying attention and staying on task, which can lead to problems in school or the workplace.
  5. Both conditions are associated with certain physical characteristics, including unique facial features or malformations.
  6. Both conditions can have a range of severity, from mild to severe. However, both are considered lifelong disabilities and require ongoing support and treatment.
Differences between Autism and Mental Retardation infographic

6 Differences between Autism and Mental Retardation

Despite all the similarities, there are also many significant differences between them, including:

  1. While mental retardation is a form of intellectual disability, autism is a developmental disorder. Mental retardation affects cognitive processes such as thinking, reasoning, and learning, while autism is a disorder that impairs a person’s ability to communicate and interact socially.
  2. Mental retardation or developmental delays typically results from problems with the brain that occurs before birth or during infancy and is usually diagnosed before the age of 18. Autism, however, can be diagnosed at any age and is often detected in children between the ages of 2 and 3. [3]
  3. Mental retardation is considered to be an intellectual disability and affects a person’s IQ levels, while autism does not affect a person’s intellectual ability.
  4. Those with mental retardation may have difficulty learning basic skills, including reading and writing, while young adults with autism may demonstrate both strengths and weaknesses in academics.
  5. Individuals with mental retardation often experience decreased physical coordination, whereas individuals with autism may have normal or above-normal motor skills. [4]
  6. People with mental retardation tend to have difficulty learning new tasks, but individuals with autism are more likely to display repetitive behaviors or resist change in their environment.

Causes of Autism and Mental Retardation

Research suggests that both autism and mental retardation are caused by a combination of environmental, genetic, and biological factors. Autistic behaviors are caused by brain abnormalities, according to Dr. Anderson. Hence, an autistic child might take longer to switch between thoughts, adaptive behaviors, and activities than a child without this condition.

Also, according to the National Institute of Health, mental retardation is caused by a wide range of conditions, such as chromosomal disorders, exposure to toxins or drugs during pregnancy, infections, birth complications, and head trauma. [5]

In terms of genetics, studies have shown that some individuals with autism or mental retardation may have a family history of these disorders. In addition, some studies suggest that parents who are older when having children may increase the risk of their child developing either autism or mental retardation. [6]

In general, the cause of one condition does not necessarily mean that it's the cause of the other.

Should You Seek Professional Help

If you or someone you know has autism or mental retardation, seeking professional help is essential. Trained Online Therapists can provide diagnosis and treatment and teach cognitive skills, problem-solving skills, communication skills, social rules, and language skills according to the severity of the symptoms.

In addition, you can access other professionals, such as a clinical psychologist and a psychiatrist, who can provide special education, including physical therapy, occupational therapy, and behavioral therapy.

Furthermore, a physician may recommend medication to help manage symptoms related to severe autism or mental retardation. If this is the case, follow the doctors' orders and discuss any changes or concerns with them.

You can take this quick general mental health test to check your or your loved one's general mental state.


The debate surrounding the relationship between autism and mental retardation is still ongoing, with some arguing that they are two distinct conditions while others contend that they are related in some way. Ultimately, there are many similarities between the two conditions, but also many differences.

If you are concerned about your child or loved one’s mental health, it's important to seek professional help so that they can receive the best possible care.

Meta Description

There's a debate on whether autism should be regarded as mental retardation. Find out the similarities and differences between both conditions in this article.


What disorders are considered mental retardation?

Mental retardation is a broad term used to describe a range of cognitive, intellectual, and adaptive functioning impairments. Several different disorders fall under the umbrella of mental retardation, including;

  • Intellectual disability
  • Down syndrome
  • Fragile X syndrome
  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
  • Rett syndrome /RTS

What type of mental disorder is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that causes communication difficulties resulting in less social interaction and repetitive behavior.


  1. Autism Spectrum Disorder
  2. Section E - Mental retardation
  3. Autism and Mental Retardation: Are They the Same?
  4. The Autistic Brain
  5. Intellectual Disability - StatPearls
  6. Family History of Mental and Neurological Disorders and Risk of Autism

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