Child Disintegrative Disorders

Child disintegrative disorder is a rare condition. It is a part of the large autism spectrum disorder. Child disintegrative disorder is characterized by loss of previously acquired motor, language, social, or any other skill that may have been developed before the age of three to five.

Childhood disintegrative disorder is also known as Heller’s syndrome or disintegrative psychosis. It was first described by Thomas Heller, an Austrian Educator in the year 1908. Child Disintegrative Disorder is a complex disorder known to affect different areas of a child’s development profoundly.


Some cases of this syndrome can manifest abruptly within a matter of days or weeks, and other times, it gradually develops over a more extended period. The exact cause of this disorder remains unknown.

However, there are certain factors that contribute to the development of this disorder, and they include:

Genetic mutation

A genetic mutation has been linked to a higher chance of developing developmental regression that can lead to child disintegrative disorder. Most experts believe that a family’s medical history can determine the chances of a child developing this syndrome.

The medical history of a family with one or more members recorded to have an autistic syndrome has an increased risk of having a child developing child disintegrative disorder.

Environmental factors

Certain environmental factors, such as toxic air pollution, can put a child at the risk of developing child disintegrative disorder.

Pathological exposure

Some infants exposed to certain pathogens and illnesses can increase their chances of having this disorder. The most common pathway for these pathogens to cause damage is usually by intrauterine transmission. The diseases most likely to do this damage are Toxoplasmosis, other infections, rubella, cytomegalovirus infection, and herpes simplex (TORCH).

Birth trauma

Unfortunately, a child can sustain trauma during delivery, and this trauma leaves the child more vulnerable to have this condition after birth.

Toxin exposure

Certain materials can have chemical properties that can be toxic to a fetus or an infant. The use of antiepileptic drugs during pregnancy has been linked to an increased likelihood of having this condition.

Pregnant women are advised to avoid taking medications without the prescription of qualified doctors. Also, drugs and other chemicals should be kept out of the reach of children.


Some experts believe that babies born prematurely have a higher chance of developing this disorder.


Epilepsy is frequent in children with this disorder. However, experts are not sure if epilepsy contributes to the development of this disorder or that this syndrome causes epilepsy to the patients.

The medical and neurological tests carried out in children with disintegrative child disorder rarely determines the underlying medical or neurological cause.

Children disintegration disorder, particularly severe cases, has been linked to other conditions, especially the following:

  • Lipid storage diseases: This condition is when there is a toxic accumulation of excess lipids (fats) in the brain and nervous system.
  • Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis: This is a chronic infection that affects the brain. This comes in the form of measles virus that causes subacute sclerosing panencephalitis. This condition causes inflammation on the brain and the death of nerve cells.
  • Tuberous sclerosis (TSC): This condition is a genetic disorder that may cause tumours to grow in the brain and other vital organs such as the heart, kidneys, skin, lungs, and eyes. Although these tumours are benign (noncancerous), they may cause some discomfort to the patient.
  • Leukodystrophy: This condition causes the myelin sheath not to develop in a normal way. This causes the brain’s white matter to fail and disintegrate eventually.


How do you know that a child has a disintegrative disorder? The following are symptoms that suggest that a child may be suffering from the condition:

Social and emotional development regression

This is characterized by the inability to relate and socialize with other people. If a child who normally accepts reassurance and affection from the parents or other loved ones, starts losing interest, or loses the ability to accept them, then the child is likely to have child disintegrative disorder.

Children with child disintegrative disorder may be inconsolable and may start withdrawing from human contact. The child may manifest aggressive attitudes even at the nicest thing done to them. They may start throwing unnecessary tantrums, and withdrawal from peers may manifest.

Impaired motor function

Due to poor coordination, affected children may develop an awkward gait even when this wasn’t the case before. They may not be able to run around, pedal a tricycle, or jump around like they used to.

Also, a child with the disorder who has been toilet trained might start bedwetting and making a mess of themself. Generally, their social, communicative, and behavioural characteristics may be similar to those suffering from autism.


Child disintegrative disorder is usually diagnosed when complaints about a child losing a skill or skill that they had already acquired. No parent or caregiver would be happy to experience a decline or regression in their child’s development. Therefore, as soon as their complaints get to the doctor, the doctor will first carry out a medical examination on the child.

This medical check is done to rule out any organic cause of the condition and help narrow down the list of possible conditions. This is because many conditions have similar symptoms, and a person must be properly diagnosed before treatment is administered.

If the medical examination rules out any organic cause, then the child is referred to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist will make a differential diagnosis to confirm child disintegrative disorder. This diagnosis is to monitor and confirm regression or loss of skills which the child had normally developed for at least two years of being born.

Those skills are in areas such as:

  • Receptive language skills: This is how they understand language. If the child begins to show regression or loss of understanding the language they use to know before, then that child is likely to have child disintegrative disorder
  • Expressive language skills: This is how they express themselves using spoken words or language. A child who has developed normal language skills, and begins to show a decline or loss is likely suffering from child disintigrative disorder.
    Social Skills or Adaptive Behaviors; Their reaction to situations is often exaggerated. They may become excessively aggressive, or they may prefer to withdraw from others, especially their peers.
  • Playing with peers: Children typically play a lot, especially with their peers. They are likely to play and connect with children their age, even though they are strangers. However, when a child who has been relating well with peers starts to withdraw, would   likely to be diagnosed with CDD.
  • Motor skills: The way a child walks and moves their body parts may develop normally, but when the child starts developing an awkward gait or moving their body parts awkwardly, then this child might have CDD.
  • Bowel or bladder control: Previously established bowel control may be lost if a child has child disintegrative disorder. A child who has been toilet trained before may start bed wetting and soiling themselves.

A child with CDD may develop restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped behaviour, such as repeatedly bobbing the head up and down, or other repetitive movements.


Regression, loss of language, and other skills associated with self-care & social interactions are serious issues. Having to see your child grow healthy only to witness a regression or total loss of the already acquired skills can be awful.

Children with CDD may go through disabilities in certain areas.

The child may need to be cared for, for a long time. Treating child disintegrative disorder may involve both the combination of behaviour therapy and Sensory Enrichment Therapy. The use of medications is administered when the physician feels it is necessary.

Behavior therapy

This therapy may involve Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), which is regarded as the most effective form of treatment for disorders in Autism Spectrum Disorders. The principal purpose of ABA is to better the quality of the patient’s life, as well as to improve their independence.

This can be achieved by teaching adaptive behaviours to autistic children.

They are developed to help to reduce problematic behaviours such as injuries or running away from school or home. ABA works by using positive reinforcement to encourage good behaviours, and negative reinforcement discourages bad or unhealthy behaviours over time.

Sensory enrichment therapy

Sensory Enrichment Therapy tries to enrich the sensory experience of the child to reduce the effects of the symptoms of autism.

Note: Autism shares many symptoms with child disintegrative disorder.

Use of medications

No medications available are known to cure CDD. However, medicines such as antipsychotic and anticonvulsant drugs are administered for controlling some of the symptoms of child disintegrative disorder.

Antipsychotic drugs are used in treating severe behavioural issues such as aggressive stance and repetitive behavioural patterns. At the same time, anticonvulsant medications are used in controlling seizures that may occur.