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Childhood disintegrative disorder

Childhood disintegrative disorder is a condition occurring in 3- and 4-year-olds who have developed normally to age 2. Over several months, a child with this disorder will deteriorate in intellectual, social, and language functioning from previously normal behavior.

  • Alternative Names

    Disintegrative psychosis; Heller syndrome

  • Causes, incidence, and risk factors

    The cause of childhood disintegrative disorder is unknown, but it has been linked to neurological problems. An affected child shows a loss of communication skills, has regression in nonverbal behaviors, and significant loss of previously acquired skills. The condition is similar to autistic disorder (autism).

  • Symptoms
    • Loss of social skills
    • Loss of bowel and bladder control
    • Loss of expressive or receptive language
    • Loss of motor skills
    • Lack of play
    • Failure to develop peer relationships
    • Impairment in nonverbal behaviors
    • Delay or lack of spoken language
    • Inability to start or sustain a conversation
  • Signs and tests

    This disorder must be differentiated from both childhood schizophrenia and pervasive developmental disorder (autism).

    The most important signs of childhood disintegrative disorder are loss of developmental milestones. The child tends to have normal development through age 3 to 4, and then over a few months undergoes a gradual loss of previously established abilities (e.g., language, motor, or social skills). Generally, the diagnosis is made with a loss of functioning in at least two areas described above.

  • Treatment

    Treatment is the same for autistic disorder (autism) because of the similarity in the two disorders.

  • Expectations (prognosis)

    Unfortunately, the prognosis for this disorder is limited. The loss of functioning will likely be permanent. However, to some degree, behaviors can be modified.

  • Calling your health care provider

    Call your provider if your child has any delays in development or starts to lose developmental abilities.

Review Date: 6/13/2006

Reviewed By: Benjamin W. Van Voorhees, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2014 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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