Childhood Disintegrative Disorder Overview


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Childhood disintegrative disorder is a severe loss of social, communication and other skills classified in a group of disorders called “Pervasive Developmental Disorders. " Onset is usually after the age of four. The signs and symptoms are similar to autism, although autism usually occurs at an earlier age and is more common.

Pervasive developmental disorders include:

  • Childhood disintegrative disorder
  • Autism
  • Asperger’s syndrome
  • Rett syndrome
  • Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified

    A Viennese educator, Theodor Heller, first described the condition. Childhood disintegrative disorder is also known as Heller’s syndrome after Theodor Heller.

    Signs and symptoms of childhood disintegrative disorder include:

  • Normal development for at least the first two years of life
  • Significant loss of previously acquired or learned skills before age 10 in at least two of the following areas:

    1. ability to say words or sentences
    2. ability to understand verbal and nonverbal communication
    3. social skills and self-care skills
    4. bowel and bladder control
    5. play skills
    6. motor skills (ability to voluntarily move the body in a purposeful way)

    The lack of impairment occurs in at least two of the following areas:

    1. social interaction
    3. repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests and activities

    Childhood disintegrative disorder may occur abruptly over the course of days to weeks or gradually over an extended period of time. There is seldom found an underlying medical or neurological cause.

    Further research is difficult due to the limited number of children diagnosed with childhood disintegrative disorder, although more research is needed at this time. Experts suspect there may be a genetic basis or that an autoimmune response plays a role in the development of childhood disintegrative disorder.


    Treatment for childhood disintegrative disorder is about the same as for autism; there is no cure for this disorder. Treatment may include:

  • Medications: There are no medications specifically to treat childhood disintegrative disorder. Severe behavior problems like aggression and repetitive movements can sometimes be controlled by antipsychotic medications.
  • Behavior therapy may be used by psychologists, speech therapists, physical therapists and occupational therapists, parents, teachers and caregivers.

    Prognosis for children with childhood disintegrative disorder is usually poor and worse than for children with autism. Children with this disorder often need residential care in a group home or long term care facility.

    Source: Mayo Clinic

    Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use the information in this article to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child’s condition.

    This article is FREE to publish with the resource box.

    Written by: Connie Limon. Visit us at About Babies and Toddlers is a collection of articles all about babies and toddlers available for information, education and FREE reprints to your newsletters, websites or blogs.

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