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Developmental regression in autism spectrum disorders.

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  • 1University of California, Davis Medical Center, M.I.N.D. Institute, Davis, California 95817, USA.


The occurrence of developmental regression in autism is one of the more puzzling features of this disorder. Although several studies have documented the validity of parental reports of regression using home videos, accumulating data suggest that most children who demonstrate regression also demonstrated previous, subtle, developmental differences. Counter to clinical intuition, the earlier development of social, language, and attachment behaviors followed by regression does not seem to support later recovery of skills or better developmental outcomes compared to children who never had speech or typical social responsivity. In fact, this regressive group may have somewhat greater developmental impairment than the nonregressive group, though the two groups do not appear to present different behavioral phenotypes. Although autism is not the only condition in which regression occurs, it appears to be the most frequent condition. Other disorders that demonstrate an early regression with no known etiology include total blindness from birth and childhood disintegrative disorder, both of which demonstrate behavioral relations to autism. In addition, two biological conditions with known etiologies also involve regression with some behaviors resembling autism behavioral phenotype: Rett syndrome (a genetic disorder; see Glaze, this issue) and Landau-Kleffner syndrome (see McVicar and Shinnar, this issue), which involves a seizure disorder.

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