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Childhood disintegrative disorder

Alternative names

Disintegrative psychosis; Heller's syndrome


Childhood disintegrative disorder is a condition occurring in 3 and 4 year olds characterized by deterioration over several months in intellectual, social, and language functioning from previously normal behavior. Normal development is seen up to age 2.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

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


  • 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 initiate 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 this disorder are loss of developmental milestones.

The child tends to have normal development by age 2, fairly normal (but with some mild developmental delay) until age 10, and then a gradual loss of previously established abilities. Generally, the diagnosis is made with a loss of functioning in at least two areas described above.


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, though to some degree behaviors can be modified.

Calling your health care provider

You should always call your health care provider if your child has any delays in development or starts to lose developmental abilities.

Update Date: 5/24/2002

Elizabeth Hait, M.D., Department of Pediatrics, Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT