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Difference between autism and mental retardation?

Autism vs Mental Retardation

 

What are autism and mental retardation?

Having an autistic child or a child with special needs is all about children needing extra attention and care. The difference lies in the kind of care the child might need based on the area he faces difficulties in. Autism, for example, is characterized by altered social behavior, repetitive actions and difficulty in communication both verbal and non verbal. Mental retardation, in contrast, also called as Intellectual disability, is defined as generalized impaired cognitive functioning along with reduced IQ (Intelligent Quotient) levels. Typically, IQ levels in a patient with Mental Retardation are below 70, which is the diagnostic criterion set by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders (DSM).

 

Difference between their causes

       The cause for autism isn’t exactly known  but a strong genetic predisposition is thought suspected whereas causes for Mental retardation are congenital disorders like Down’s syndrome, Klinefelter’s syndrome etc; hypoxia during labor or birth, exposure to certain toxins like alcohol and smoking during pregnancy and deficiency of iodine.

 

Differences in presentation

   Autistic children prefer to play alone and have difficulty interacting with other children and adults. They have poor eye contact while having a conversation and show repetition of behaviors. Any change in the environment tends to disturb the child. The intelligence quotient is normal in most of the children and some are even prodigious, and termed as ‘autistic savant’.

     In mental retardation, the child tends to have delayed milestones and will be slow in talking and walking. The low IQ restricts the memory and children have lower than average learning abilities and problem solving skills. Many a times, there is a complete vegetative state of the child which restricts movement and behavior. Children having mental retardation will also need special attention as they typically do not become independent. They cannot cope up with everyday skills unless specially trained rigorously. Autistic children lack display of emotions and do not form attachments easily whereas children with mental retardation will form attachments easily with everyone. Love for music is common in both the conditions and hence cannot be used to distinguish the behavior. There is social withdrawal in both the disorders but in autism there is inability of communication due to delayed impulse transmission whereas in mental retardation there is loss of cerebral functioning responsible for all poor development of all skills.

         Echolalia (repeating others words) and ritualistic behaviour (sameness) is commonly seen in autism but not observed  in mental retardation which is a very important feature for differentiation.

 

Differences in treatment

   Structured teaching and tailor made treatments are necessary for both the disorders. For autism, counseling and special interactive teaching is customized such that it makes it easier for to be with other children. Autistic children also have difficulty in pointing out to objects and so the tutor helps teach them to point purposefully.

         For patients with mental retardation, one has to be extremely patient and deal with them with immense compassion as they do not have the ability to grasp or learn things at the pace of typical children. Things requiring logic and reasoning are difficult to grasp for them and thus, teaching aims at developing skills which will make them financially independent and confident. They can speak well if taught well and also understand emotions a lot better than autistic children.

 

Summary:

Children with autism are characterized by social deficits, communication difficulties and repetitive behavior while the IQ is mostly maintained above 70. Mental retardation is characterized by IQ below 70 and poor cognitive and intellectual skills. Both require special care, extra attention and special education.


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