Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD)

A condition occurring in 3 and 4 year olds characterised by a deterioration over several months of intellectual, social, and language functioning from previously normal functioning. Also known as; disintegrative psychosis; Heller's syndrome. This rather rare condition was described many years before autism but has only recently been 'officially' recognized. With CDD children develop a condition which resembles autism but only after a relatively prolonged period of clearly normal development. This condition apparently differs from autism in the pattern of onset, course, and outcome. Although apparently rare the condition probably has frequently been incorrectly diagnosed. The following is prominent with the condition:

  • 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

Differential Diagnosis

Some disorders have similar or even the same symptoms. The clinician, therefore, in his/her diagnostic attempt has to differentiate against the following disorders which need to be ruled out to establish a precise diagnosis.


The cause is unknown but several lines of evidence suggest that it arises as a result of some form of central nervous system pathology. More boys than girls appear to be affected. Childhood disintegrative disorder is perhaps 10 times less common than more strictly defined autism.


Treatment is the same for autistic disorder (autism) because of the similarity in the two disorders. Treatment is very difficult and prolonged. Parents, teachers, and therapists work together in coordinated efforts to encourage social adjustment and speech development in the child. Positive reinforcement techniques such as offering food for appropriate behavior or language responses have been successful in promoting skills. Treatment may be in an institution, specialized school, day-care setting, or in the home. Family members may need counseling because they often feel guilty or inadequate. Treatments such as dietary modification and vitamin therapies, medication, music therapy, colored or prism lenses, auditory training, sensory integration, social skills programming, speech therapy.


childhood disintegrative disorder By Ann Reyes, Ph.D.
A child with childhood disintegrative disorder develops normally for the first 2 years. At 3-4 years of age, the child shows marked deterioration of his or her intellectual, social, and language skills. Childhood disintegrative disorder is a type of pervasive developmental disorder.


Autism NZ Website:
Official Website of the Autistic Association of New Zealand Inc.

Autism Society of America Website:
The mission of the Autism Society of America is to promote lifelong access and opportunity for all individuals within the autism spectrum, and their families, to be fully participating, included members of their community. Education, advocacy at state and federal levels, active public awareness and the promotion of research form the cornerstones of ASA's efforts to carry forth its mission.