Childhood disintegrative disorder

Considered by health care professionals to be the most severe kind of autism, childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD) is also the least common developmental disorder in the autistic spectrum. After a stage of normal development, the child rapidly looses multiple functional abilities between the ages of 2 and 4. Sometimes confused with late-onset autism, CDD is differentiated by a more severe loss of skills and a greater likelihood of mental retardation. Language and social skills the child has developed are lost as well as intellectual abilities. The child will often develop a seizure disorder and the majority of these children never recover the abilities they have lost. Fewer than 2 out of every 100,000 children develop this disorder, the majority of which are boys.




After the period of normal development, there are two kinds of losses the child will experience. The first is the loss of previously acquired skills; the second is a continued lack of normal function or impairment.

  • Loss of learned skills
    • Loss of the ability to say words or sentences
    • Bowel and bladder control
    • Motor skills (ability to voluntarily move)
    • Loss of social skills
    • Loss of the ability to understand verbal and nonverbal communication
    • Loss of self-care skills
    • Lack of normal function
      • Social interaction – failure to develop relationships, impairment in nonverbal communication, lack of emotion, inability to understand and respond to social cues.
      • Communication – delay in or lack of a spoken language, inability to sustain a conversation, repetitive use of certain words or phrases, lack of imagination.




Also known as Heller’s Syndrom, there is no known cause for CDD. Like most autistic disorders, there seems to be some genetic link in CDD. The most common theory surrounding the causes of CDD is that there is an abnormal gene that is turned on before birth that affects other genes that play a crucial role in brain development. Other theories include environmental factors such as exposure to a toxin, an autoimmune response (your body perceives normal body components as foreign and attacks them), brain tumors, excess fat build up in the brain and an infection of the brain caused by the measles virus.




There are a number of tests that doctors administer to determine if the child has developed CDD. The first test is an extensive birth, developmental, medical and family health history search to determine if genetics have played a role. A neurologist will then perform a number of neurological examinations such as MRI, CT or EEG scans to determine if the disorder is caused by a brain tumor or other brain abnormalities. Blood and genetic testing will determine if the disorder is inherited. Communication and language tests measure how well the child communicates with others and where they are at in speech development to determine the severity of CDD. Hearing and vision tests are also used to determine the severity as well as a behavior inventory to document the severity of specific behaviors.




Unfortunately, there are no medications that can treat CDD. Like other autism disorders, there are medications that can help with the symptoms such as seizures and anxiety. Behavior therapy can be used to help the patient with language and social skills, and are also intended to reinforce desirable behaviors and discourage problem behaviors. A positive outcome for children with CDD is very low. The loss of cognitive, language and social skills is so severe and permanently disabling that these individuals will more than likely require care in a residential home or group care facility.