What is Regressive Autism?

What is Regressive Autism?


There are two types of autism diagnoses: Early onset autism and regressive autism. The former is the most common form, and children with early onset autism develop symptoms from the time of their birth.

With regressive autism, on the other hand, a child has neurotypical characteristics when they’re born. Their symptoms only start to appear after they turn one year old.

For example, if your son or daughter is diagnosed with regressive autism, they may engage with others and/or learn new words without any trouble during the first few months of their life.

 However, as they get older, your kid could withdraw from social activities, begin to prefer playing by themselves, and lose their linguistic skills.

What is the age at which regressive autism starts?

In most cases, regressive autism manifests itself between a child’s first and third birthdays.

 Researchers recommend that parents should screen their kids for autism at 18, 24, and 36 months old.

At some point after the third year, a child who has regressive autism stops developing new symptoms. 

In other words, the parents of a four-year-old boy or girl will get a clear idea of how severe their child’s regressive autism is, and they don’t have to worry about whether the condition could worsen.

By keeping an eye out for the initial signs of regressive autism, you could intervene at an initial stage and give your child the treatment (like aba therapy) that they need.

Signs of Regressive Autism in a Child

Unlike children with early onset autism, those that have regressive autism grow normally. For instance, they will say their first word, learn the alphabet, and socialize in school just as a neurotypical child would. Yet they lose these skills as they age.

Here are some signs and early developmental patterns that indicate that a child may have regressive autism:

  • They struggle with pronouncing words that they were previously comfortable with.
  • A child may revert from participating in games with other children to watching TV or playing with their toys on their own.
  • The child loses their non-linguistic skills. They may stop gesturing or maintaining eye contact, to give a couple of examples.

A lot of the time, the first sign that appears is the loss of non-linguistic skills. 

If you suspect that your son or daughter is showing signs of regressive autism, there are certain ways to diagnose them.

How to Diagnose a Child with Regressive Autism

After the early signs of regressive autism begin to emerge, the child will eventually display common autism spectrum disorder (ASD) symptoms. Here are some of the most prevalent ones:

  • Repetitive behaviors, such as hand-flapping and hair-pulling.
  • An obsession with specific toys, objects, or TV shows.
  • A preference to play and be alone over participating in activities with other kids.
  • The inability to sit still, whether that’s at home, in class, and/or elsewhere.
  • Having physical tantrums and emotional meltdowns when they’re upset, even if it’s over minor things.
  • General struggles in social situations.

Although many children typically show one or several of these symptoms, autistic kids (with both early onset and regressive autism) exhibit most or all of them. They also display the symptoms more severely than their neurotypical counterparts.

Simply put, you can relatively easily determine if your child is manifesting autistic behaviors, even more so when they grow normally during their first 12 months.

Nevertheless, the only way to officially diagnose your son or daughter with regressive autism is by having them visit a certified and licensed therapist. 

Additionally, an experienced autism therapy provider can help you manage your child’s symptoms at a young age and prevent them from getting worse.

Can regressive autism be reversed?

According to one study about changing autism severity amongst children, 30% of six-year-old kids had much less serious symptoms in comparison to when they were three years of age. Some of them experienced no signs at all, despite being previously diagnosed with ASD.

Having said that, the study concluded that there isn’t a link between the type of autism (regressive and early onset) and whether or not the symptoms wane off with age.

To put it another way, the currently available science tells us that regressive autism cannot be reversed. However, the sooner you work with a qualified and reliable therapist, the less severe and more manageable your child’s condition will become.

Therapies for Children with Regressive Autism

There are several therapy options that you can pick from when treating your son or daughter’s regressive autism. Below is a list of the prominent ones, alongside what each of them entails.

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Therapy

ABA therapy is the most common approach to managing ASD symptoms. In a few words, ABA therapy entails giving your kid a reward when they engage in positive behavior, such as maintaining eye contact and sitting still at the dinner table.

Over time, these behaviors will turn into habits. Your child will start doing them subconsciously, and without expecting a reward. As a parent, you should hire a professional and licensed ABA therapist because, when done the wrong way, this method could psychologically harm your kid.

This means that you shouldn’t attempt to implement ABA therapy techniques on your own. In the same vein, you must ensure that your son or daughter’s therapist is licensed and that they have a reliable track record of working with autistic children.

Sensory Integration

People with ASD are typically overly sensitive to bright lights, loud sounds, strong smells, and certain textures. This can have a negative impact on an autistic child’s ability to perform their day-to-day tasks, including sitting still in a classroom and eating food.

Sensory integration therapy addresses these challenges by changing the way in which the brain reacts to noise, lights, and smells. Therapists achieve this during play sessions.

To clarify, here are a couple of examples of how sensory integration therapy can help manage ASD symptoms:

  • A therapist may keep the TV or radio on at a low volume throughout the day. As the autistic child’s brain gets used to the noise, their sensitivity to sound will decrease as time goes by.
  • When a kid is uncomfortable with how their food physically feels, sensory integration therapy will gradually improve that problem until the child starts to eat normally.

Parents may find it appropriate to combine sensory integration therapy with other forms of treatment that focus on other drawbacks that their boy or girl is facing.

Speech Therapy

Autistic children develop different types of speech complications. Some of them have difficulties with speaking, all together. Others may be overly-talkative, but they struggle to complete sentences or use their words in a manner that makes logical sense.

Speech therapy addresses verbal and non-verbal speaking troubles, alike. It is not unusual for autistic kids to have issues with talking due to their brain’s inability to direct the mouth’s muscles. Speech therapy can enhance a child’s ability to control these muscles and make them stronger.

Similarly, therapeutic methods are very effective when an autistic kid doesn’t know how to understand others’ body language or grapples with making facial expressions that match how they feel.

Here are some typical speech therapy techniques that can help resolve these shortcomings:

Social Skills Coaching

Children with ASD that have verbal communication problems can benefit from social skills coaching. To clarify, this doesn’t apply to non-verbal challenges, such as controlling the mouth’s muscles.

Instead, therapists can coach your kid on how to talk to friends, classmates, relatives, and/or family members. This depends on your child’s specific needs. A therapist will frequently focus on assisting your son or daughter with responding to questions and regulating their voice tone, to name a couple of examples.

Alternative Augmentative Communication (AAC)

Some autistic children might prefer to communicate in a non-verbal way. AAC therapy teaches them how to use sign language, technology, and/or images to express themselves.

Here is how an AAC therapist could help your child:

  • The therapist holds up a picture and gives your kid a list of words. The latter would pick the word that matches the image.
  • Alternatively, your son or daughter could rely on an iPad or desktop app to choose (and verbally hear) the word that suits the picture.
  • An AAC professional could teach your child how to communicate through sign language.

AAC therapy is particularly suitable for children who struggle with using their mouth muscles, but it doesn’t solve all of their problems.

Solving Eating Difficulties

Needless to say, when an autistic child cannot adequately control their muscles, eating and swallowing will likely become burdensome to them. Speech therapy professionals can help them overcome this obstacle.

Vision Training

Autism may also impact a kid’s other senses, namely vision. Just as some autistic children can’t sit still or feel uncomfortable when they touch certain textures, others have a hard time keeping their eyes concentrated on one object.

Here are a few signs that your child is running into vision-related challenges:

  • They can’t make or maintain eye contact.
  • When you ask them to look at a toy or object, they have problems doing so for prolonged periods.
  • The boy or girl is overly sensitive to bright lights.

These issues can be caused by psychological and neurological factors, alike. To clarify, the way that an autistic person’s brain is wired may make it hard for them to control their eye’s muscles and movements.

Vision therapy can allow your child to overcome these shortcomings based on their specific needs. Some techniques focus on stimulating the eye’s nerves and muscles.

Therapists commonly utilize contacts and prisms to teach a kid how to properly use their eyes while engaging in day-to-day tasks, such as walking, carrying objects, and writing.

If you are interested in vision therapy for your autistic son or daughter, you should initially talk to their primary care provider to determine what your child’s needs are and the types of vision therapy techniques that suit them. Similarly, their doctor may identify other sensory difficulties that should be addressed.

Auditory Integration Training (AIT)

Auditory Integration Training is useful for autistic children that are very sensitive to sounds. The concept behind AIT is that the ear’s muscles can be healed in the same way that a broken bone is treated via physical therapy.

AIT practitioners would identify the high and low sound frequencies that your autistic kid is sensitive to. After that, they play audio recordings (music, for instance) that fluctuate between the said high and low frequencies. In turn, the listener’s ears neutralize these sounds and get accustomed to them over time.

Having said all that, AIT is a relatively new method, and there isn’t a lot of scientific data that proves how effective it is. Therefore, you should consult with a doctor before having your child participate in AIT. In the same vein, make sure that you regularly follow up with the therapist to monitor the results and how your kid is responding to the treatment.

Tools for Parents to Cope with Regressive Autism

Regressive autism can be especially shocking since the diagnosed kids start their lives normally, only to have the symptoms appear one to three years later.

At the end of the day, however, both regressive and early onset autism present a unique set of challenges to children and their parents, alike. Finding ways to cope with them is an essential part of the journey.

Here are a few tools that will help you and your child navigate the drawbacks of regressive autism and ASD in general:

  • Find local autism support groups: Autism support groups allow you to meet other parents that have autistic kids, share your concerns with them, and learn from their experiences. You can also access educational materials at a lot of group meetings and listen to professional speakers.
  • Speak to therapists: A qualified and licensed therapist will identify the areas that your child may struggle with. This is important when the first signs of regressive autism start to appear. Early intervention and treatment can make your son or daughter’s symptoms much easier to live with.
  • Carefully vet your kid’s therapist: There are many horror stories out there that were caused by unqualified and/or abusive therapists. Before you work with someone, check their credentials and make sure that they have the proper training and licenses.
  • Keep an eye out for early signs: As previously mentioned, early intervention and treatment can keep your child’s ASD symptoms manageable. Since regressive autism only develops one to three years into a child’s life, it is crucial for parents to stay alert for any potential signs.

If you believe that your kid has regressive autism, the best approach would be to have a professional therapist diagnose them. While this condition can’t be reversed, it certainly can be managed and put under control.

Once your child receives an official diagnosis, your next steps entail studying different treatment options, including ABA therapy, sensory integration, and others. Coping with any form of autism is hard, but the tools that we outlined above can definitely make it less stressful and difficult.

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