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;

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

Understanding Autism and Intrusive Thoughts: Coping Strategies and Support

Autism & Intrusive Thoughts
How To Cope
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Autism and intrusive thoughts are distinct concepts, although they can sometimes coexist. Autism is a developmental condition that affects how a person communicates, interacts with others, and processes information. It is characterized by difficulties in social interactions, repetitive behaviors, and restricted interests.

On the other hand, intrusive thoughts are unwanted, persistent thoughts that can cause distress or anxiety. They are not specific to autism and can be experienced by people with various mental health conditions, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety disorders, or depression.

- Practice mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation
- Identify and challenge negative thought patterns
- Engage in activities that require focus and attention, such as puzzles, art, or physical exercise
- Accept the presence of intrusive thoughts without trying to suppress them
- Create a daily routine to provide structure and predictability
- Work with a therapist
- Connect with supportive friends, family members, or support groups
- Prioritize physical and emotional well-being by getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising regularly, and engaging in relaxation techniques
- Write down intrusive thoughts and any patterns or triggers you notice
- Limit exposure to trigger

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects communication, social interaction, and behavior. Intrusive thoughts are a common experience for many individuals with autism which are unwanted and distressing and can arise spontaneously, These thoughts can be repetitive and may involve themes such as germs, harm, or symmetry, similar to the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

In this article, we will explore the relationship between autistic disorder and intrusive thoughts, the impact of these thoughts on an autistic person's life, and the coping strategies and support for managing them. We will also discuss the potential comorbid diagnosis of OCD in individuals with autism.

Autism Spectrum Disorder and Intrusive Thoughts

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are characterized by a wide range of symptoms, and intrusive thoughts are often reported by individuals with autism, specifically those who are diagnosed with autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder [1]. These intrusive thoughts can be distressing and may interfere with an autistic person in daily functioning. They can range from worries about contamination, harm, or symmetry, to repetitive thoughts about routine or interests. These thoughts may cause anxiety and distress and can impact the quality of life of individuals with autism.

The relationship between autism and intrusive thoughts is complex and may involve various factors. Restricted and repetitive behaviors, which are hallmark features of autism, may intensify or trigger intrusive thoughts. For example, repetitive behaviors such as checking, ordering, or counting may be associated with obsessive and intrusive thoughts about symmetry or perfection. Additionally, sensory sensitivities, which are common in individuals with autism, may also trigger intrusive thoughts. Sensory overload or discomfort during sensory processing may lead to increased anxiety and intrusive thoughts related to sensory triggers.


A boy with autism spectrum disorder sitting against a tree

Demystifying Intrusive Thoughts in Autism: Types and Manifestations

Intrusive thoughts can significantly impact the lives of individuals with autism, often causing distress and interfering with daily functioning. Understanding the different types and manifestations of intrusive thoughts is essential in order to provide effective support and coping strategies.

Types of Intrusive Thoughts in Autism:

Repetitive Thoughts and Images:

Obsessions and Fixations:

Intrusive Questions and Doubts:

A boy with autism spectrum disorder experiencing intrusive thoughts

Intrusive Sensory Thoughts:

Manifestations of Intrusive Thoughts:

Emotional Distress:

Interference with Daily Functioning:

Rituals and Compulsions:

Coping Strategies:

Cognitive-Behavioral Techniques:

Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques:

Supportive Environment and Routines:

A boy with autism spectrum disorder gazing into a store's window

Comorbid Diagnosis of OCD and Autism

The comorbidity between anxiety disorders OCD and autism is well-documented in research. A recent systematic review found that around 40% of autistic individuals acquire at least one comorbid anxiety-related diagnosis. The most frequent diagnosis was specific phobia (30%), followed by obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD; 17%).[2]

OCD refers to a mental disorder characterized by recurrent and intrusive thoughts, urges, or images (obsessions) that are followed by repetitive behaviors or mental acts (compulsions). People with comorbid OCD and autism display symptoms such as repetitive thoughts, rituals, or compulsions that are often related to sensory sensitivities. For example, an individual may repeat a certain behavior in order to reduce anxiety caused by external stimuli. Or they may engage in compulsive behavior such as checking and ordering activities to reduce their feeling of insecurity.

Furthermore, research has explored the longitudinal and offspring risk of comorbid OCD and autism. Studies found that individuals with both autism and OCD tend to have a higher risk of persistent OCD symptoms into adolescence compared to those with OCD alone [2]. Further, studies suggest that the offspring of parents with OCD and autism have an increased risk of developing OCD, autism, or both, suggesting a genetic and familial link between the two conditions [2].

Did you know?

There are 4 types of OCD: contamination, checking, symmetry and ordering, and intrusive thoughts. Each type presents unique challenges.

Coping Strategies for Managing Intrusive Thoughts in Autism

Autistic kid having intrusive thoughts

Managing intrusive thoughts can be challenging for young people, but there are coping strategies that can be helpful for individuals with autism. It's important to note that different strategies may work for different individuals, so it's essential to tailor the approach to each person's needs and preferences. Here are some coping strategies that may be effective for autistic people:

  1. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a therapeutic approach that focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. It can be adapted for individuals with autism and intrusive thoughts and may involve techniques such as cognitive restructuring, exposure and response prevention, and problem-solving skills training. CBT can help individuals with autism identify and challenge intrusive thoughts, and develop strategies to cope with them effectively.
  2. Social Skills Training: Social skills training can help individuals with autism improve their social interactions and communication skills, which may in turn help them better manage intrusive thoughts. Learning effective communication strategies, assertiveness, and emotional regulation can empower individuals with autism to express their thoughts and concerns in a constructive way, reducing the impact of intrusive thoughts on their daily life.
  3. Sensory Regulation Techniques: Sensory sensitivities can trigger intrusive thoughts in individuals with autism. Engaging in sensory regulation techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or sensory breaks can help individuals with autism manage sensory overload and reduce anxiety, which may in turn help reduce the occurrence of intrusive thoughts.
  4. Structured Routine: Establishing a structured routine can provide a sense of predictability and stability for individuals with autism, which may help reduce anxiety and intrusive thoughts. Having a consistent schedule for daily activities, including leisure time, self-care, and relaxation, can help individuals with autism better manage their thoughts and emotions.
  5. Supportive Environment: Creating a supportive environment can be beneficial for individuals with autism in managing intrusive thoughts. This may involve reducing environmental triggers, such as excessive noise or clutter, and creating a calming and organized space. Having a support system in place, including family, friends, or a therapist, can also provide emotional support and practical strategies for coping with intrusive thoughts.

Support for Individuals with Autism and OCD

Autistic kid with a health care professional

In cases where individuals with autism get a comorbid OCD diagnosis, it's important to seek appropriate professional support. OCD treatment typically involves a combination of therapy and medication and may be tailored to the individual's needs and preferences. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with exposure and response prevention (ERP) is a commonly used therapy for OCD, which involves gradually confronting and resisting the urge to perform compulsive behaviors or restricted repetitive behaviors while managing the anxiety that arises from repetitive behavior. Medication, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), may also be prescribed to help manage the symptoms of OCD.

It's crucial to work with a qualified mental health professional, such as a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist, who has experience in treating both autism and OCD. They can provide a comprehensive assessment of developmental disorders, develop an individualized treatment plan, and provide ongoing support to individuals with comorbid autism and OCD.


Managing intrusive thoughts can be challenging for individuals with autism, but online therapy provides effective support. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), social skills training, and sensory regulation techniques can help. Creating a supportive environment, maintaining structured routines, and seeking qualified mental health professionals who understand autism and OCD are crucial. Online therapy offers valuable strategies to manage intrusive thoughts and promote fulfilling lives.


Do autistic kids have obsessive thoughts?

Yes, some autistic kids can have obsessive thoughts. These thoughts can manifest in different ways, such as having a strong interest in a certain topic or an obsession with certain objects or routines. Obsessive thinking is often seen as a symptom of autism and can interfere with daily functioning if not properly managed.

How do I stop obsessive thoughts in autism?

Managing obsessive thoughts in autism is not one-size-fits-all, but you may find helpful strategies. Try to identify triggers for obsessive thoughts and plan for when they occur. Distracting activities like hobbies or walking can work well. Relaxation techniques like deep breathing or visualization help reduce stress. Practice mindfulness to observe your thoughts without getting caught up in them and stay present. Mental health professionals can help you with guidance and support to overcome obsessive thoughts.


  1. Anxiety Disorders and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder - PMC
  2. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorders: Longitudinal and Offspring Risk - PMC

What Are The 4 Types Of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Types Of Autism
Asperger Syndrome
Autistic Disorder
Childhood Disintegrative Disorder
Pervasive Developmental Disorder
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- Asperger Syndrome
- Autistic Disorder
- Childhood Disintegrative Disorder
- Pervasive Developmental Disorder –> Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)

Asperger Syndrome is a developmental disorder that affects social interaction, communication, and behavior. People with Asperger's may have difficulty understanding social cues, making eye contact, or engaging in typical social interactions.

They may also have narrow interests and engage in repetitive behaviors or routines. While there is no cure for Asperger's, early diagnosis and intervention can help individuals with the condition develop coping strategies and improve their ability to communicate and engage with others.

Autistic Disorder, also known as classic autism, is a developmental disorder that affects social interaction, communication, and behavior. People with autistic disorder may struggle to understand social cues, engage in conversations, and express their emotions.

They may also have a narrow range of interests and engage in repetitive behaviors or routines. Autistic disorder is part of the autism spectrum of disorders and can range from mild to severe.

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD) is a rare developmental disorder that affects young children. Children with CDD experience a significant loss of previously acquired skills in multiple areas, including language, social skills, and motor abilities.

The loss typically occurs between the ages of two and four years old, and the regression is often rapid and severe. Unlike other autism spectrum disorders, the onset of CDD is later, and children may have had typical development up until the regression.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) is a group of developmental disorders that affect communication, socialization, and behavior. PDD encompasses a range of conditions, including Autism Spectrum Disorder, Asperger's Syndrome, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder.

Individuals with PDD may have difficulty with social interactions, communication, and may engage in repetitive behaviors or routines. While the specific symptoms and severity of PDD can vary, early diagnosis and intervention are crucial for improving outcomes.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a condition that makes it harder for some people to talk, make friends, and understand social cues. It's like their brains are wired a bit, and it can affect how they communicate and behave. Doctors diagnose it in early childhood and it affects individuals depending on their level of functioning. [1]

There are different types and levels of autism. In this article, we will take a look at the "four types of autism." It's important to note that doctors don't categorize autism this way anymore since 2013. [2]

We'll also talk about the signs, features, and ways to help people with different types of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). By understanding the differences between each condition, we can better help those with autism in our lives.

Here are the types of autism:

Asperger Syndrome

Asperger's Syndrome is a condition that makes it hard for people to communicate and interact. It's a kind of autism, but it's milder, and some people call it “high-functioning autism.” People with Asperger's can live normal, independent lives.[3]

One of the main challenges for people with Asperger's is dealing with social communication. They might find it hard to understand and respond to social cues like the tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language. Here are some other common things that people with Asperger's might experience:

Doctors usually diagnose Asperger's in kids or teenagers, but adults can find out they have it too. [3]

Challenges Of Children with Asperger Syndrome infographic

Autistic Disorder

Classic autistic disorder is the most severe form of autism. People with this condition have a hard time communicating and interacting with others, and they often do the same things over and over again.

Understanding both spoken words and unspoken signals like facial expressions or gestures can be tough for them. Starting or keeping a conversation going isn't easy, and making friends can take a bit more time. [4]


Childhood Disintegrative Disorder

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD), or Heller’s Syndrome, is a rare type of autism that happens in kids under ten years old. Kids with CDD suddenly start losing skills they used to have, like talking, moving around easily, and communicating with others. We don't really know why this happens, and it's pretty rare, affecting less than one in every 100,000 kids. [5]

Kids with CDD are okay at first, but between ages two and four, parents and doctors start to notice something's wrong. The kids begin to lose the skills they learned, like speaking and playing with others. Their ability to move and communicate starts to get worse. [5]


Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)

PDD-NOS stands for Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified, and it's one of the types of Autism spectrum disorders. Sometimes, people call it "subthreshold autism." Kids with PDD-NOS might be a bit slower to develop skills in talking, making friends, and certain behaviors. [6]

Kids with PDD-NOS have some of the same challenges as kids with other types of autism. They're kind of in the middle - they might have a harder time than some, but an easier time than others. [6]

For example, they might find it tricky to make friends their own age, understand what others are trying to say without words or play pretend games. They might also do the same thing over and over again, be super interested in one thing, or be sensitive to how things feel, sound, or taste. Changes in their usual routine can be a big deal for them.

So, in a nutshell, kids with PDD-NOS have some challenges with talking, socializing, and behavior, but it's not as severe as classic autism. Intrusive thoughts with autism can sometimes exacerbate these challenges, causing additional anxiety or stress. [6]

The Truth About The Autism Types Based on a 2013 Study

In 2013, scientists at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) did a study that helped us understand the four different categories of autism we talked about earlier. [1]

They found out that people with any type of autism often find it hard to make friends and connect with others. This can make social situations tricky for them. But, not everyone faces the same level of challenge - it can be different for each person and depends on the type of autism they have.[1]

The NIMH scientists also discovered that the lines between the different types of autism can be blurry. This means a person can have symptoms of more than one type of autism at the same time, like Autistic Disorder and Asperger's Syndrome. This can make figuring out the exact type of autism and the best way to help a bit complicated. [1]

Resources And Possible Treatments For Autism

When it comes to autism, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment or therapy. Each person’s needs and preferences vary significantly, so an early diagnosis means treatment can begin soon. Fortunately, there are many resources available to help those with autism disorder.

Some of the most common treatments include:

  1. Online Therapy: Therapists work with individuals to improve their ability to communicate effectively. They can help with language development, nonverbal communication, and pronunciation.
  2. Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA): ABA is an evidence-based therapy that focuses on breaking down complex tasks into smaller, more manageable steps. This helps to teach skills such as communication, social interaction, and problem-solving. [7]
  3. Occupational Therapy: Occupational therapists work to help those with autism develop and improve fine motor skills, sensory integration, problem-solving skills, and coordination. [8]In addition to these treatments, many organizations and support groups provide services and resources for individuals with autism. Resources range from educational materials and support for parents to providing job opportunities for adults with autism. With early intervention, you can find the best fit for the individual.

You can take this quick general mental health test to check your general mental state.


Autism is a condition that can be pretty complex and different for each person who has it. There are four main types: Asperger Syndrome, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS).

Even though there's no cure for autism, there are treatments and therapies that can help manage the symptoms. Every person with autism is unique, so they might need a special plan that's just for them to help them be their best selves.

Getting the right diagnosis and support is super important. With the right help, people with autism can live meaningful lives and do a lot of awesome things!


What are the most recent diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder?

The most recent diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder, outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), no longer distinguishes between different types of autism or subtypes. Instead, it recognizes a single diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder with varying levels of severity.

What is the most severe type of autism?

Autism severity is measured on three levels:

  • Level 1, which is considered "mild" and requires some support.
  • Level 2 is considered "moderate" and requires substantial support.
  • Level 3 is considered "severe" and requires very substantial support.

Individuals with severe autism may have significant difficulty with communication, social interaction, and behavior and may require extensive support and assistance to meet their daily living needs.


  1. Autism Spectrum Disorder - NIMH
  2. Why Doctors Changed the Way They Categorize Autism
  3. Asperger Syndrome - an overview
  4. Classic Autism
  5. Childhood disintegrative disorder
  6. PDD, pervasive developmental disorder, pdd-nos
  7. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
  8. Why is occupational therapy important for autistic children?
  9. Understanding the Three Levels of Autism

The information provided on this health blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.