Childhood disintegrative disorder

Childhood disintegrative disorder is also known as Heller's syndrome. It's a very rare condition in which children develop normally until at least two years of age, but then demonstrate a severe loss of social, communication and other skills.

Childhood disintegrative disorder is part of a larger category called autism spectrum disorder. However, unlike autism, someone with childhood disintegrative disorder shows severe regression after several years of normal development and a more dramatic loss of skills than a child with autism does. In addition, childhood disintegrative disorder can develop later than autism does.

Treatment for childhood disintegrative disorder involves a combination of medications, behavior therapy and other approaches.

Symptoms Causes

Children with childhood disintegrative disorder typically show a dramatic loss of previously acquired skills in two or more of the following areas:

  • Language, including a severe decline in the ability to speak and have a conversation
  • Social skills, including significant difficulty relating to and interacting with others
  • Play, including a loss of interest in imaginary play and in a variety of games and activities
  • Motor skills, including a dramatic decline in the ability to walk, climb, grasp objects and perform other movements
  • Bowel or bladder control, including frequent accidents in a child who was previously toilet trained

Loss of developmental milestones may occur abruptly over the course of days to weeks or gradually over an extended period of time.

When to see a doctor
Children typically develop at their own pace, but any loss of developmental milestones is cause for concern. If your child has suddenly lost previously acquired language, social, motor, play, thinking (cognitive) or self-help skills, such as toilet training and feeding, contact your doctor. In addition, if you suspect that your child has gradually shown a loss in any area of development, talk with your doctor.

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