Similarities Between Down Syndrome and Autism

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Down syndrome and autism are two developmental disorders with different causes and characteristics. Studies and researches suggest that about 16 to 18 percent of people with Down syndrome have autism-like traits. Although they are two distinct conditions, autism is even more common in people with Down syndrome. The two conditions are not directly related and require distinct approaches to diagnosis, treatment, and support. Despite the differences, there are some similarities between autism and Down syndrome. We shed light on some commonalities between the two. Read on to know more.

Down Syndrome

Down syndrome is a genetic disorder in which a person develops abnormal cell division in the form of an extra or partial copy of chromosome 21. Normally, each human cell contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, but individuals with Down syndrome have an extra copy of chromosome 21, resulting in a total of 47 chromosomes instead of the usual 46. It is a condition that some children are born with. This genetic anomaly leads to certain physical and intellectual characteristics. Common physical features include almond-shaped eyes, a flat facial profile, a single crease across the palm, fairly small ears, and low muscle tone. It also affects how most children learn and develop mentally and emotionally. The condition is named after an English doctor, John Langdon Down, hence the name.


Autism spectrum disorder is short for ASD. The term ‘autism’ refers to brain disorders that affect a person’s ability to think, learn, communicate, and behave. Autism is a developmental disorder, just like Down syndrome, but is part of a diagnosis called PDD, which is short for pervasive development disorder. Pervasive means something affects your body, mind, and overall health. Autism is considered a spectrum disorder because it presents differently in each individual, ranging from mild to severe. Some individuals with autism may have exceptional abilities in certain areas, while others may face significant cognitive and developmental delays. However, people with autism are complex and unique.

Similarities between Down syndrome and Autism

Developmental Disorders

– Both Down syndrome and autism are developmental disorders that can impact the typical growth, everyday functioning, and progress of an individual, particularly concerning cognitive, social, and emotional development. These conditions are typically identified early in life, often before the age of three, through observation of developmental delays or atypical behaviors. However, Down syndrome is a chromosomal disorder whereas autism is a neurodevelopmental condition related to brain development.

Intellectual and Learning Challenges

– One of the major similarities between the two conditions is that they both are associated with intellectual and learning challenges. Individuals with Down syndrome commonly experience mild to moderate intellectual and developmental problems due to the presence of an extra copy of chromosome 21. Autism is also characterized by a wide range of cognitive abilities, from intellectual disability to average or above-average intelligence.

Varied Symptoms

– Individuals with Down syndrome or autism have difficulty thinking, communicating, and understanding. Both conditions exhibit a wide range of symptoms and variations in their expression. While some individuals with Down syndrome may have relatively mild cognitive impairments and minimal autistic traits, others may demonstrate more significant cognitive and social difficulties. Similarly, autism spectrum disorder varies widely in its presentation, with some individuals showing mild social difficulties and others experiencing severe communication challenges and repetitive behaviors.

Supportive Interventions

– For people with both conditions, early intervention and specialized support are crucial. Their functional abilities can be considerably improved through educational programs, speech and occupational therapy, and behavioral interventions. Early intervention is crucial in both cases, which can include speech and language therapy, physical exercises and activities, etc. These are very important in addressing developmental delays and improving their quality of life.

Impact on Families

– Families of those with Down syndrome and autism may face similar challenges in terms of caregiving, accessing appropriate resources, and advocating for their loved ones. Both conditions can put immediate family members of those affected under a great deal of stress – emotional, physical, and even financial. Raising awareness about both conditions can help reduce stigma and ensure better support for affected individuals and their families.


While both are distinct developmental disorders with different causes, they share some key similarities. Early intervention and individualized care play crucial roles in enhancing the well-being and quality of life for those affected by Down syndrome or autism. However, each person with Down syndrome or autism is unique and has a range of different interests and abilities, just like everyone else.


Does Down syndrome correlate with autism?

Both conditions have distinct genetic and neurological origins, but there is some correlation between them. Some individuals with Down syndrome may also exhibit autistic traits, leading to a diagnosis of “autism spectrum disorder (ASD) with comorbid Down syndrome.”

What’s the difference between autism and Down syndrome?

Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition primarily characterized by difficulties in social communication and interactions, repetitive behaviors, and restricted interests. People with Down syndrome usually have difficulty learning and remembering the same things as other people.

What is Down syndrome a form of autism?

While many children with Down syndrome live normal lives, others have more serious physical defects since birth that affect their lives. Some of the common problems involve hearing and vision. Down syndrome is not a form of autism, but some individuals with Down syndrome may also have autism or exhibit autistic traits.

What genetic disorders are similar to autism?

Many genetic disorders are similar to autism. Some of these genetic disorders include Fragile X syndrome, Rett syndrome, Angelman syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, Williams syndrome, and so on.

Author: Sagar Khillar

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