QUESTION: What are the reasons why ASD is not considered a mental illness?
And is it true that people with ASD, eg aspergers, are more disordered than those whom we call neurotypicals?

ANSWER: A developmental disability is not mental illness. A developmental disability, such as autism manifests in childhood and is in the category of developmental disorder.  The characteristics of autism are demonstrated by the individual's difficulty learning and processing information. Although the symptoms or characteristics can be often confused.  

Mental illness is an emotional disturbance. There may be one occurrence or several which can develop at any time in a person’s life. The individual has difficulty with thoughts and feelings. It is also more treatable through drugs and psychotherapy.  

Like anyone else, a person with developmental disabilities may become emotionally disturbed or mentally ill, but they are separate conditions.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Is it true that people with ASD are more disordered than those whom we call neurotypicals (they don't get a diagnosis)?

I am not sure what you mean by your question, but I will try to give you an answer.  Neurotypicals are individuals who not require any diagnosis because they are developing the normal sequence of skills at a same rate at expected for a child of the same age.

A person who has been diagnosed with ASD, may be developing some skills at an expected rate and others at a slower rate or not at all.  For example, they may walk and crawl within the norms but fail to learn to speak as expected. They may be very delayed in speech or not develop verbal language at all. The most important characteristics of autism however, is an impairment of social skills. So their development is delayed and also disordered.

I hope that helps!


All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Dr. Judy Horrocks


Questions about behavior, communication and social skills. Also any questions on educational treatments.


I have been an educator for over 30 years. I have worked as a special education teacher, administrator, principal, and consultant. I have given presentations about autism on both the state and national level.

Council for Exceptional Children

Principals Attitudes regarding the inclusion of children diagnosed with autism in Pennsylvania public schools, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, v38 n8 p1462-1473 Sep 2008 Book coming out this spring about Autism through Cambridge Press. I am a contributing author, I wrote the chapter on educational treatments.

B.A. in psychology from Penn State University M.S. in special education from Beaver College (now Arcadia University) Ed. D. in educational leadership from Lehigh University

©2016 All rights reserved.