Childhood disintegrative disorder
Childhood disintegrative disorder is a condition in which children develop normally through about age 3. Then, over a few months, they lose language, motor, social, and other skills that they already learned.
Childhood disintegrative disorder is a part of the larger developmental disorder category of autism spectrum disorder.
Every child has a unique personality. Some are outgoing, while others are shy. But there are certain kids who have trouble dealing with things that most children take in stride. They may not make eye contact or have conversations. They may not like to be touched or to hear loud sounds. If you have a child who acts this way, the problem may be autism. Why do kids get autism? Autism is a developmental problem that often becomes noticeable during the toddler years, though it may start earlier. It's significantly more common in premature babies. We know it has to do with abnormal brain biology or chemicals, although the precise mechanism hasn't yet been worked out. Autism appears to be linked both to genes and environmental exposures. Although the cause of autism is still unclear, doctors do know that the recent increase in autism isn't caused by vaccines. Two leading health organizations, the American Academy of Pediatrics and The Institute of Medicine have studied the issue in depth. The recommended vaccines don't increase autism; they do prevent serious diseases like measles, tetanus, and diphtheria. How is autism diagnosed? More kids are getting diagnosed with autism today than they were a few decades ago. Some of this increase may just be that doctors are testing for it more often now. Children with autism share several characteristics. They may be overly sensitive to sounds, sights, smells, or tastes. For example, a child with autism might refuse to wear anything that's the color blue, or scream when he hears a fire engine siren. Get stuck in routines--a child with autism may want to brush his teeth at exactly 9 a.m. every morning, and get upset if he hasn't brushed them by 9:05. They may prefer to play alone, have trouble talking to people and making eye contact. They may also perform the same motions over and over again, such as waving their arms. Lastly, they may be much quieter than other kids his or her age. Doctors can diagnose autism with one or more screening tests. These tests evaluate the child's ability to talk, move, and think. Because each child with autism is different, treatment is tailored to the child. Programs like applied behavioral analysis that can help kids learn the skills they need to be more independent. Medicines can treat specific symptoms that are common in kids with autism, like aggression, hyperactivity, and trouble sleeping. Some kids with autism may respond well to a gluten- or casein-free diet. Gluten is found in breads and other foods that contain wheat, rye, or barley. Casein is an ingredient in dairy products. Talk to a dietitian before making any changes to your child's diet. It's fine to try different autism treatments, but watch out for any program that claims to be a miracle, or a cure. Anything that sounds too good to be true probably is. Autism treatment has come a long way. Decades ago, kids with autism were put away in institutions. Today, they're treated with the goal of becoming independent, functioning adults. If you're worried that your child is showing signs of autism, call your doctor. Get a diagnosis so you can start your child on treatment as soon as possible.
Exams and Tests
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Bridgemohan CF. Autism spectrum disorder. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 54.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Autism spectrum disorder, family health history and genetics.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. What is autism spectrum disorder?
Chaves-Gnecco D, Feldman HM. Developmental/behavioral pediatrics. In: Zitelli BJ, McIntire SC, Nowalk AJ, Garrison J, eds. Zitelli and Davis' Atlas of Pediatric Physical Diagnosis. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2023:chap 3.
Sidhu R, O'Banion D, Hall C. Autism and other neurodevelopmental disabilities. Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, Newman NJ, eds. Bradley and Daroff's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 90.
Last reviewed on: 4/28/2023
Reviewed by: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.