What is the difference between Autism and Down syndrome? (+6 Similarities)

This blogpost will be explaining what the difference between Autism and Down syndrome is. We will also be checking out the main similarities which are shared by Autism and Down syndrome.

What is the difference between Autism and Down syndrome?

The difference between Autism and Down syndrome is that the former is a neuro-developmental disorder, while the latter is a chromosomal condition. Both of these conditions are life-long and are also difficult to treat.

The other differences between Autism and Down syndrome have been explained in the following section.

Autism and Down syndrome have different causes

Autism: Autism is caused by multiple factors including mostly genetics and certain biological factors. For instance, family history of autism leads to an increased risk of this neurodevelopmental disorder.

In certain cases, infections during pregnancy or infections immediately after birth can also lead to autism. In other cases, traumas to the fetus before birth can also lead to autism.

Down syndrome: Down syndrome is a chromosomal condition and this means that the chromosomes which make up the genetics of the person have a fault in them. Down syndrome is mostly caused due to an extra copy of chromosome 21 and this is the most common type.

There is also a type of DS called Mosaic Down syndrome where only certain cells of the body have an extra copy of chromosome 21. On the other hand, Translocation Down syndrome occurs because of an extra copy of chromosome 21 which is attached to another chromosome.

They also pose different types of symptoms

Autism: In Autism, the symptoms may vary from person to person. However, most autistic people tend to be socially isolated when compared to others and don’t use facial, hand or body gestures when they are communicating.

Learning language is often a problem area for those who have autism and even if they grasp other subjects well, language might always be an issue for them. They may also show intelligence in other areas, but might face difficulties when it comes to socialization.

Down syndrome: The main symptom of Down syndrome is the set of physical characteristics that accompanies the condition. For example, short fingers, small head, short neck, slanted eyes and less muscle tone when compared to others.

Apart from these physical characters, Down syndrome can also present itself through learning difficulties and even mental retardation in some. However, socialization-wise, those who have DS are pretty social with others and tend to be very friendly.

Autism and Down syndrome are treated differently

Autism: Autism is a life-long condition and there is no permanent cure for this. The treatment related to Autism is to simply help the person do their daily activities with ease and with comfort.

Certain medications may also be prescribed for Autism but this is mostly for the other conditions which may accompany this condition, such as depression or anxiety. Therapies like speech therapy and occupational therapy can also be useful for Autism.

Down syndrome: Down syndrome also cannot be cured and only treatments to make daily life comfortable can be provided. Speech therapy, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, art therapy, play therapy and more can be very useful for this.

Down syndrome can also lead to other co-occurring medical conditions and these may need to be treated with medications or even surgery. To help them with academics, those who have DS may also need special services.

Other medical conditions may also occur

Autism: Along with Autism, some other medical conditions may also occur in the person. For instance, the person may experience frequent seizures along with this neurodevelopmental disorder.

Apart from physical conditions, the person may also experience certain mental health conditions like depression, anxiety and even have sleep disorders. For this, they may need to consult a mental health professional for therapy or medication.

Down syndrome: Those who have Down syndrome may have numerous other medical conditions. For instance, they may have congenital heart issues, thyroid issues, and even reduced immunity levels.

As a result, children with Down syndrome often need to undergo various medical procedures and surgeries at a very early age. They may also need to go through extensive physical therapy to improve their muscle tone and hip stability.

Similarities shared by Autism and Down syndrome

While Autism and Down syndrome may have many differences between them both, it is true that they also share numerous other features and characteristics. Some of the important similarities shared by Autism and Down syndrome are:

Both Autism and Down syndrome are life-long conditions

Autism and Down syndrome are both life-long conditions which mean that once a diagnosis has been made, there is no cure. Only treatments to keep the person comfortable and productive throughout the day are currently available.

Apart from helping the person cope with their daily activities and schedules while living with the condition, these treatments may also be directed toward the other co-occurring medical conditions that may be manifested.

The conditions can cause learning impairments

Another similarity between Autism and Down syndrome is that the person may experience certain impairments in learning. However, the reasoning for the learning impairment in each of the conditions is different.

In Autism, the learning impairment often comes by as a result of not being able to communicate properly since the condition affects the ability to interact properly with others. When it comes to Down syndrome, the learning impairment is because of decreased cognitive abilities.

There may be certain delayed developmental milestones

In both Autism and Down syndrome, the child may experience delays in certain developmental milestones when compared to normal children. Most commonly, in Autism, the child may not show eye-contact and gesturing at the right age.

In Down syndrome, the developmental milestones are more related to the physical abilities of the child and also their cognitive abilities. DS leads to low muscle tone and thus walking may be delayed in the child.

Co-occurring medical conditions are common in Autism and DS

Another similarity between Autism and Down syndrome is that these conditions rarely occur individually. Apart from the condition itself, the person may have other co-occurring conditions which also need to be treated.

In Autism, many mental health conditions can be manifested, such as depression, anxiety and certain phobias. For these, the person may need medications and even psychotherapy. They may also experience seizures frequently for which they need anti-epileptic medication.

In Down syndrome, there can be way more medical conditions for which rigorous treatment needs to be sought. Cardiac conditions are also pretty common for which surgery and medications need to be provided as early as possible.

Autism and DS can cause communication problems

Both Autism and DS can lead to problems in communication in the child. In Autism, the communication impairment occurs due to the lack of gesturing and the lack of eye contact. Language development may also be an issue here.

In Down syndrome, socialization may not be an actual problem since these kids are pretty friendly with others. However, due to cognitive impairments and delayed milestones, forming sentences and phrases can be lacking.

Sensory issues are common in Autism and Down syndrome

Sensory issues can also be found mainly in Autism. However, the sensory issues here relate to hyper-sensitivity or even hypo-sensitivity and these can lead to more troubles. For example, hypersensitivity in the mouth can make eating food a difficult thing.

Down syndrome can also lead to certain sensory issues. But these are different from those presented in Autism. In DS, hearing is often affected due to various reasons. Due to this, children with DS may like loud, rhythmic beats.


This blogpost has explained what the difference between Autism and Down syndrome is. We have also checked out the main similarities which are shared by Autism and Down syndrome.

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