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How is autism different from mental retardation?

Chantal Sicile-Kira
Mental Retardation & Developmental Disabilities
My son, Jeremy, who is severely autistic, explains it best. He is clear about what he feels and thinks. “Being severely autistic means being stuck in a body that doesn’t work well with no way to communicate," he told me. "People ask: Do I feel emotions? Yes I do, I just can’t show them. Like when my mom helps me. I am really grateful, but I can’t get my face to move. You know autism is very different from being retarded, and the difference is that nothing seems different to me. I am the same as you inside. I can’t control my body, but I am smart.”
William Stillman
Health Education

This has long been a point of contention and controversy, especially as we are learning more about autism as a movement difference in how the brain and body communicate as opposed to an intellectual impairment. Essentially, when an individual is tested (with an IQ exam or evaluations), a score of 70 or below clinically qualifies one for a mental retardation diagnoses. As many individuals with autism do not speak, have lapses in motoric processing, or misinterpret directions literally, it is not difficult to envision a highly intelligent person with autism readily failing an IQ test. However, this is gradually improving as autism-friendly evaluations are being applied and mental retardation is less diagnosed in children with autism. Remember, though, that there are many types and degrees of intelligence in all human beings and we should be wary of imposing limitations on one's potential based on labels.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.