What is Regressive Autism and How Does it Differ from Classic Autism? Your Questions Answered

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A Typically Developing Child. . .

Camden began life as a happy baby. He started smiling when he was a few months old and looked into people’s eyes. By six months old, Camden was laughing and babbling. The toddler began waving and stringing words together a few months later. Three-year-old Camden was an energetic, talking child. Then, the little boy began to change. His words stopped, he no longer laughed, and he rarely made eye contact. Other skills vanished, too.

The beginning of the above scenario describes what all new parents anticipate. The first smiles, babbles, and gestures are all momentous events in a baby’s and a parent’s life. Parents look forward to these developmental milestones and breathe sighs of relief when they can check them off the list. As the scenario illustrates, though, a typically developing child can suddenly lose skills. This sudden change can indicate regressive autism.

Symptoms of Regressive Autism

What is regressive autism? Unlike classic autism, a child with regressive autism develops typically for a number of years before symptoms appear. While classic autism or other early onset autism spectrum disorders usually present symptoms during the first or second year of life, regressive autism’s symptoms do not present for a few years. Regressive autism, also known as late onset or acquired autism, is a pervasive developmental disorder on the autism spectrum.

The symptoms of regressive autism are similar to classic autism and to the other autism spectrum disorders. These symptoms usually appear in a typically developing child around 15 to 18 months of age and include:

  • Loss of communication, language, and social interaction skills;
  • Loss of acquiring new skills;
  • Oversensitivity to certain sounds, lights, textures, colors, tastes, or smells;
  • Inability to register pain, discomfort, heat, or cold;
  • Impairment of motor skills;
  • Possible development of seizures;
  • Impairment of immune system function (recurrent infections treated by antibiotics), and;
  • Gastrointestinal problems, including severe diarrhea and/or constipation.

As with other forms of autism, children with regressive autism display a wide range of symptoms and these symptoms vary greatly in severity.

The Differences between Regressive Autism and Classic Autism

Although the symptoms of regressive autism are similar to those of classic autism, the two disorders are very different. The symptoms of regressive autism usually present themselves much later than those of classic autism, often appearing suddenly after years of typical childhood development. Children with late onset autism usually meet developmental milestones on time within the first three years of life. After certain skills have developed, however, they begin to disappear suddenly. The regression of social, language, and self-help skills can be quite profound, severely impairing once typically developing children. This sudden change in children can cause extreme stress in parents, making this form of autism particularly difficult to understand or accept.

Children with regressive autism, as with other forms of the disorder, should have treatment as soon as possible. This treatment includes behavioral therapy, dietary intervention, supplements, control of recurrent infections, and development of educational plans.


Kaneshiro, N.K., & Zieve, D. (2010). Autism. Retrieved October 5, 2010, from www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001526.htm

Yazbak, F.E. (2003). Regressive autism and mmr vaccination. Retrieved October 5, 2010, from vran.org/vaccines/mmr/regressive-mmr.htm