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Most children with autism show very early signs and a particular developmental pattern, a small percentage of children
demonstrated a growth described as normal development followed by a loss of acquired skills or a failure to use the achieved
skills. This outcome has been termed autistic regression.
Most children with autism show developmental difficulties early in life, usually involving their ability to communicate. Regressive
autism occurs when a child appears to develop normally but then starts to lose speech and social skills at about the age of 18
months and is later diagnosed with autism. Other terms used to describe regression in children with autism are autism with
regression, autistic regression, setback-type autism, and acquired autistic syndrome. There is no standard definition for
regression, and the prevalence of regression varies depending on the definition used.
A new research study examines the 20 to 40 percent of children who appear to develop communication skills, then regress.
Home videos of children's birthday parties may confirm some children who seemed normal in their first year of life may regress
and develop symptoms of autism by their second birthday.
Home Videos Confirm Autistic Regression
A new study examined home videos of first and second year birthday parties and revealed that some autistic children began to
show symptoms of autism by their first birthday, such not using words or babbling, not playing with other children, and lack of
interest during the celebration. Meanwhile, other autistic children who behaved normally during the first year appeared to regress
and showed typical symptoms of autism by their second birthday. Researchers say it's the first significant evidence of autistic
regression, a form of autism that accounts for about 25 percent of all autism cases in the U.S. Researchers recommend early
screening for autism during the 18, 24 and 36 months it’s essential to identify children who develop normally at first, but then
experience a regression.
Early Onset Autism vs. Autistic Regression
Researchers observed the frequency and duration of several behaviors seen in the videotapes, such as language, eye contact with
people, repetitive behavior, emotion, and playing with toys. They were unaware of the diagnosis the children had at the time.
They also interviewed the caregiver about the child's early development.
By the children's second birthday, both groups of autistic children vocalized and used words less frequently, pointed seldom,
rarely looked at people, and didn't respond when their name was called more often than the typically developing children.
Children whose parents reported autistic regression used more detailed babble and words at their first birthday than normal
children, while children with early onset autism used the fewest words and least amount of babble. In addition, children with the
early onset form of autism pointed less at their first birthday and showed more communication difficulties than the other two
groups at this age.
Researchers say the results of this study show that at least some children don't develop the classic symptoms of autism by the
end of their first year of life, and these symptoms may emerge in the following year. They say that by ages 3 and 4, there were
no differences in the severity of autism between the two groups of autistic children in this study. But more research is needed on
whether autistic regression is different than other forms of the autism.
Signs of Autism Regression
Regression in autism spectrum disorders is well documented; linking regression to environmental causes as trigger may result in
a delay in diagnosis. The apparent origin of regressive autism is surprising and upsetting to parents, who often initially suspect
severe hearing loss. In particular, because distinct symptoms start just after children receive multiple vaccinations, such as
MMR and varicella (chickenpox), some people believe there’s a causal link between vaccination and autism, especially if
accompanied by a fever, rash, and rapid skill loss. Although some controversy remains no link has been found with vaccines.
Approximately 25–30% of children with autism spectrum disorders stop speaking after beginning to say words, often before the
age of two. Some children lose social development instead of language; some lose both. After the regression, the child follows
the usual pattern of autistic neurological development. The term refers to the manner that neurological development has reversed;
it is in fact only the altered developmental skills, rather than the neurology as a whole, that regresses.
Skill loss may be very sudden, or may be slow and followed by an extended phase of no skill advancement; the loss may be
accompanied by diminished social play or increased tantrums. The limited gained skills usually amount to a few words of spoken
language, and may include some initial social awareness.
Autism Regression Facts
Results associated to development of spoken language and extent of social and academic impairment varies among children with
autism. But, research has shown that children with autism who receive earlier treatment tend to have more positive outcomes.
The researchers found:
• Nearly 77 percent of children experiencing language loss also lost communication skills in non-verbal areas. Children who used
words and then stopped talking showed a pattern of developing and losing non-verbal communication skills, including
responding to their name, imitation, direct eye contact, gestures, participation in social games and receptive language skills
before speech. They went from having more of these skills before the loss than other children with ASD to having fewer of
these non-verbal communication skills after the word loss.
• The average age of diminishing skills is 19 months. Although children with regression had less apparent autism symptoms
before the loss, most of them already had started to display slight delays before the loss of words.
• There is speculation indicating there could be a possible regressive structure created by genetic and environmental influences in
autism. The patterns of development described by parents of children with regression were not gradual; parents realized there
was something wrong immediately.
The timing of childhood vaccinations and the occurrence of autism symptoms in early childhood has prompted some to
speculate that the two may be related, but scientific research has dismissed this theory.
• There is no evidence that regression in ASD is associated with the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. Most children
receive the MMR vaccine between 15 and 18 months, which is around the same time that the loss of skills emerges. Children
who received a vaccination before parents reported concerns were just as likely to have delays beforehand as children who
received vaccinations after the onset of ASD.