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There is a major difference between mental retardation and autism. Autism is not a form of mental retardation, even though many autistic people appear to act like people who suffer from retardation. In fact, autistic people generally are very intelligent. On the contrary, people who have mental retardation, by definition, lack the necessary skills for daily living and have below-average intellectual capability.
Austic people have inconceivable sensory experiences. In many cases, they may react to situations in a sensitive manner. It can also be difficult for them to interpret what they are experiencing. As a result, it is common for them to avoid being touched by other people. Their brains might have insufficient sensations to let the rest of their body know what is happening, which ultimately leads to more confusion for an autistic person.
Hearing and vision problems in people with autism also are different. Many of the noises they hear hurt their ears because they cannot process sound correctly. When people talk to them, it is difficult to understand what is being said. In a comparison of the vision capabilities of people with mental retardation and autism sufferers, autistic people have a more difficult time recognizing different faces. Bright lights and flickering frequencies make seeing objects a difficult task.
The causes of mental retardation and autism are related to several risk factors. An infection such as meningitis that is present at birth or occurs afterward can increase the chances of mental retardation. Chromosomal abnormalities and inherited metabolic disorders such as Tay-Sachs disease might cause it, as well. In autism, an abnormal development of the brain or tuberous sclerosis can contribute to it. Autism is the final result of the many disorders that affect the brain from growing properly.
When looking at the differences between these two conditions, the variations of mental retardation are separated into three general categories. People might have mild retardation, moderate to severe retardation or profound mental retardation. Mild retardation characteristics include needing only limited support and experiencing mild developmental delays. Severe mental retardation identifies the person as having an infant's or toddler's mentality despite being of an adult age. The profound level might require the person to be institutionalized.
Separate treatment plans are recommended for mental retardation and autism. The primary goal for treating people who have mental retardation is to develop them to their fullest potential. A lack of curiosity and continued infant-like behavior are signs of mental retardation. In autism, there is not a main treatment protocol. Studies have shown that structured behavioral programs work best for autistic people.