Childhood DisintegrativeDisorder and Autism - The Key Differences

Childhood DisintegrativeDisorder and Autism - The Key Differences
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Developmental delays or disorders in children can prove to be even more troubling for their parents than physical illnesses. Most physical illnesses at least have obvious signs and symptoms, clear diagnoses, established treatment plans, and eventual recovery of good health. Developmental disorders, such as those included under the category of pervasive developmental disorders (PDD), continue to discourage parents and professionals alike due to the lack of established causes, effective treatments, or hope of recovering normal physical and mental health again. Childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD) and autism are two such disorders included under PDD, which share many similarities, but exhibit a few key differences.

Every parent wants her child to develop normally.

[Image Permission: Tom Clare /].

Characteristics of CDD

The most drastic feature of CDD is that it strikes normally developing children as early as 2 to 4 years old, up to 10 years old. The two major characteristics of CDD include disintegration or loss of previously acquired or learned skills, as well as loss or impairment of normal functions. provides descriptions of the characteristics of CDD as follows [1]:

Loss of acquired or learned skills:

  • Bladder and bowel control
  • Expressive and receptive language
  • Motor skills
  • Play skills
  • Self-care skills
  • Social skills

Loss or impairment of formerly normal functions:

  • Communication: failure to converse with peers; delay of speech or no speech; echolia (repeated words or syllables); and lack of imaginative play.
  • Repetitive behaviors: engages in repetitive motions; struggles with changes in schedule; or becomes fixated on specific activities or objects.
  • Social skills: inability to recognize nonverbal cues or emotions; inability to form friendships.

Characteristics of Autism

The most striking feature of autism is its impact on a child’s ability to communicate, often rendering him or her nonverbal. Autism also impairs a child’s social skills, which often results in behavioral issues. defines the major characteristics of autism as delays in the following areas of development [2]:

  • Language for social communication: may involve delays, unintelligible speech known as “jargon,” or no speech (i.e., nonverbal).
  • Social interaction: may remain detached from peers, with no attempts to form friendships; experience difficulty controlling their emotions or expressing them properly.
  • Figurative or creative play: often become fixated on individual objects or activities, and prefer rigid schedules and routines; unable to use imagination or comprehend symbolic play.

Differences Between CDD and Autism

As clearly seen in the two previous sections, CDD and autism share many similarities, particularly in the areas of communication and social skills. Both CDD and autism impair a child’s: expressive and receptive language skills, ability to develop appropriate social skills, and ability to engage in imaginative play.

Several key differences include the following:


  • Develops before the age of 2.
  • Delays/prevents acquisition and development of language and social skills.
  • Affects 1 out of 110 American children.
  • Ongoing research has identified potential contributing causes.
  • Treatment and therapy plans have provided success in helping many autistic children overcome certain barriers, including acquisition of language skills.
  • Individuals usually progress to live a “normal” life, with some assistance and support systems in place.


  • Appears around the ages of 2 to 4, up to 10.
  • Causes significant loss of acquired/learned language, social, and self-care skills.
  • Rare disorder.
  • Research has yet to identify conclusive contributing causes.
  • Treatment plans only relieve some symptoms and modify behavior.
  • Individuals typically suffer debilitating disabilities, sometimes mental retardation, and may need residential/long-term care in a professionally staffed facility.

Conclusion and Citations


Childhood disintegrative disorder and autism are two developmental disorders included in the pervasive developmental disorders category. While the two share many similarities, primarily in the areas of impairment and development of communication and social skills, there are several key differences between CDD and autism.


[1] Childhood disintegrative disorder – Symptoms. Retrieved from

[2][3] Overview of Autism. Retrieved from

[4] Long Term Outcome with Autism. Retrieved from

[5] Childhood disintegrative disorder – Symptoms. Retrieved from

[6] Childhood disintegrative disorderTreatments and drugs. Retrieved from