Autism vs Mental Retardation (MR)

Autism is a very complex disorder. For this reason, although there is a DSM to be followed, everyone can make very different comments. Of course, the important thing is to meet at common points in some areas. Just as autism is a spectrum, the same is true for mental retardation. While some children are more affected by autism, they may be less affected by mental retardation or vice versa.

One area that creates problems in the diagnosis of autism is its differentiation from mentally retarded children. Because some features of autism can also be observed in mentally retarded children. Even the triad attributed to autism which are poor social interaction, inadequate language communication, and limited repetitive behaviors is also valid for children with mental retardation.

It also becomes particularly difficult in some cases to distinguish between these two groups. If this situation is severe in the mentally retarded child, if the child with autism has severe retardation, and if the retarded child displays autistic symptoms. It can be said that the lower the intelligence level, the more likely it is.

Some children with autism also have both autism and mental retardation at the same time. These children both experience delays in language development and experience serious difficulties in learning. Most of them cannot even speak. In other words, in addition to autism-specific problems, these children also have learning difficulties. Most of them cannot speak in general, some of them cannot learn to read and write fully, and they only improve to the extent of the quality of the education they receive. The main goal is to learn self-care and basic life skills. After these are taught, new skills are tried to be taught. 

Of course, since the degree of this mental retardation will be different in all children with autism and mental retardation at the same time, the level of functioning and learning abilities of children are also completely different.

To explain with an example, we can explain it as follows. There are ages in history as you know. Ancient, medieval, and new age. A child with autism in the ancient age cannot survive into the medieval ages. However, the beginnings and ends of these eras are quite different. To the extent of the quality of the education they will receive, for example, if he/she is in the ancient years, it will be a great success for that individual to reach the end of that era.

There is a well-known misconception that all individuals with autism are gifted. Contrary to popular belief, most individuals on the autism spectrum have different levels of mental retardation. Only 10% of children with autism are gifted. In addition, in intelligence tests, mental retardation can be observed much more in certain areas compared to other areas. This is completely different from person to person.

Autism Symptoms That Can Be Observed in Children with Mental Retardation

  • They are uncomfortable with change. They try to maintain routine and sameness.
  • They exhibit stereotypical and repetitive behaviors.
  • Toe walking behavior can be observed.
  • Echolalia may be observed, but this may also be due to a blow to the brain as a result of any accident, or brain injury.

Autism Symptoms That Cannot Be Observed in Children with Mental Retardation

  • They are not confused about the use of the subject.
  • They have no problem making eye contact.
  • They do not exhibit bodily repetitive movements. They do not have the soothing reflexes of individuals with autism.

In fact, an individual with autism does not have mental retardation because he/she is on the autism spectrum. On the contrary, approximately 70% of individuals with mental retardation are diagnosed with autism. They do not have all the symptoms of autism, but they may exhibit some specific symptoms.

Cognitive skill retardation is also observed intensely in children who are on the low-functioning side of autism and exhibit severe symptoms. We can also say that these children have a high rate of mental retardation. On the other hand, language and communication skills are acquired more rapidly in children with autism who have higher functioning and show mild symptoms. In this way, they have the opportunity to receive the same education as their peers who have completed their development normally. This is because they do not have severe mental retardation.

Criteria for the Diagnosis of Mental Retardation

Mental retardation is a disorder that creates more lifetime disabilities, is more common, takes more professional time, and has a greater financial expense than any other disability. People with mental retardation may have not only mental disabilities but also physical and emotional disabilities. Epidemiological studies in the field of mental retardation were not only limited to mental retardation but also investigated the incidence of conditions associated with mental retardation.

Mental retardation is a disorder that is encountered with situations such as perceiving late, not being able to direct their movements, not being able to comprehend, and not being able to act in a cognitive sense compared to their peers. In order to prevent this disorder, various treatment methods should be followed. However, it is essential to focus on the symptoms of mental retardation first. For this reason, many people are doing research and trying to obtain information about mental retardation.

Mental retardation is defined as the limitations of various physical and cognitive functions of the individual. In addition, in the definition made by the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, mental retardation is defined as the limitations of individuals in their current functions. Mental retardation can also be called having below-average adaptability and behavioral disability.

Just as there are different degrees of autism, there are different degrees of mental retardation observed in autism. The first criterion for the diagnosis of mental retardation in an individual is to be younger than 18 years of age.

If they are younger than 18 years old and have communication problems, cannot meet their daily needs on their own, need support for their own health and safety, cannot benefit enough from the opportunities provided by society, and are behind in some issues compared to their peers, as a caregiver you may suspect mental retardation. In this case, it is useful to get a professional opinion directly.

In order to make a definitive diagnosis, different intelligence tests should be applied. These tests are applied by professionals in the field. As the test results may vary, they should be repeated several times and be sure of the situation. In this way, more objective results can be obtained and more accurate intervention and treatment methods can be followed.

Although it varies more, it is possible to examine mental retardation in groups in order to facilitate treatment and intervention methods.

  • Mild mental retardation – They can do their daily and routine activities on their own, and do not need much support. They may have speech difficulties, but they do not have any problems in daily communication. In their adulthood, they can easily adapt to society. They may have professional skills. They are less affected by socioeconomic conditions. We can consider 85% of individuals with mental retardation in this group.
  • Moderate mental retardation – According to their peers, retardation is observed in the developmental stages. They need special training. In adulthood, they can work in occupations that require moderate skill. They may need support at the point of self-care.
  • Severe mental retardation – The group that has noticeable mental retardation without any intelligence test. Major regressions in motor skills are observed. They have difficulty understanding even simple instructions. They need support throughout their lives in any kind of activity. Speech skills may develop little or not at all. We can consider 1-2% of individuals with mental retardation in this group.

How Is Mental Retardation in Babies Diagnosed?

It is not possible to fully detect mental retardation in infants. In order to detect mental retardation in the womb, no treatment is applied and cannot be applied. The test on babies in the mother’s womb is the test called a genetic anomaly. This test must be well differentiated. Many expectant mothers have the wrong information and thought that this test indicates mental retardation. Mental retardation becomes evident, especially in the 1-3-year-old age group. Initiating early treatment after a complete diagnosis may give more positive results. For this, it is especially necessary to benefit from an expert or educational institution.

What Causes Mental Retardation?

There are many factors that cause mental retardation. These factors are examined under three main headings.

  • Causes of mental retardation occurring before birth – It is the presence of an individual with a diagnosis of mental retardation in the family. In addition, it is known to be effective in chromosomal disorders such as Down syndrome. In addition, factors such as metabolic disorders, malnutrition during pregnancy, substance use, and placental problems can cause mental retardation.
  • Causes for mental retardation during birth – It is known that many factors such as premature birth, low birth weight, and birth traumas cause mental retardation.
  • Causes of mental retardation occurring after birth – Postpartum infections and malnutrition can be counted among these factors. Diseases causing meningitis and encephalitis such as measles, pertussis, mumps, and tuberculosis are the leading causes of postpartum mental retardation. Conditions that occur after viral vaccines such as rabies vaccine also cause mental retardation. 

  • Trainable Mental Retardation

The term trainable explains that children in this group can learn basic academic skills such as reading, writing, and math. In other words, these children can benefit from primary education programs with special education. They reach a certain level academically at a later age than their peers. They can gain self-care skills as well as basic academic skills. When they become adults, they can acquire a profession that can fully or partially earn their living. Special education and training programs for this group should focus on these issues.

  • Teachable Mental Retardation

Usually, their retardation is noticed in the pre-school period. They exhibit significant retardation in their developmental skills compared to their peers. The term teachable is used in two senses: They cannot be trained in basic academic skills, and social adaptation, practical communication, and self-care skills required by daily life can be taught.

Children in this group can contribute to the production and their own livelihood by working at home, school, or certain jobs within their social adaptation skills in their adulthood. However, they still need help from others at different levels. Therefore, the aim of special education and training should be to minimize their dependence on others.

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