Regressive Autism: How Common Is It Really?

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Autism is characterized by social, communication and behavioral difficulties. It can be difficult for children to understand their feelings or the feelings of others around them. In recent years, there has been a growing number of studies investigating how common it is in different cultures and ethnic groups. These studies have revealed that autism prevalence rates vary greatly between countries with as much as six times higher rates among some populations than others.,

Regressive autism is a type of autism that has been described as “a child moving backwards in development”. It is more severe than other forms of autism. Read more in detail here: is regressive autism more severe.


Regressive autism is an uncommon form of autism. A kid looks to be developing normally in terms of social, emotional, and linguistic abilities, but subsequently loses his or her speech and social skills for no apparent cause.

This normally appears between the ages of 15 and 30 months. It might happen all of a sudden or gradually. The youngster generally has a difficult time regaining the abilities they have lost.

Acquired autistic syndrome, autism with regression, and autistic regression are all terms used to describe regressive autism.

Regression Is a Controversial Topic

Spectrum outlines what the typical, and rather outdated and misinterpreted, image of regressive autism looks like in “Rethinking Regression in Autism.” A 2-year-old child who had been developing normally “suddenly withdraws,” ignoring his own name, speaking less to the point of not speaking at all, ignoring play with other children in favor of almost exclusively playing with inanimate objects, and losing interest in hobbies in favor of obsessively focusing on a few activities. Other abilities that were formerly developing normally are lost, and the youngster begins to engage in repetitious and strange behavior.

Regressive autism was assumed to be a subset of autism for decades. According to more recent studies, the regressive model may account for up to 40% of autism diagnoses. Much of the shift is due to advances in clinical knowledge of both autism spectrum disorder and regression.

What is the prevalence of regressive autism? As studies have increased to include more persons with distinct presentations of autism spectrum disorder, estimates of the likelihood of regression have climbed – as many as one in five instances, according to a research published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. The mainstream notion of regressive autism has been challenged by an increasing amount of studies.

Regression & a Range of Onset Patterns

It was formerly considered that regressive autism and non-regressive autism were mutually exclusive. More physicians are arguing now that such categories are worthless.

While most children with autism lose some abilities, there is significant variety in the kinds of skills lost, the ages at which they are lost, and the degrees to which they are lost. Doctors have seen that the more they look into a patient’s past and family environment, the more indicators of classic autism emerge, rather than neurotypical development that was lost abruptly.

Other study backs this up. “A variety of start patterns” were discovered in a 2016 research published in the Autism journal, ranging from early developmental delays with no loss of abilities to no such delays before a manifest loss.

In light of this, some physicians argue that what is typically referred to as regressive autism should be referred to as any of a variety of onsets of autism spectrum condition. There is “a complicated kaleidoscope of options” when it comes to the loss of social, emotional, and communication abilities, rather than a black-and-white separation between “normal” autism and “regressive autism.”

A ‘Disappearing’ Boy

In 2014, a number of studies were published debating the incidence of regressive autism. The tale of Owen, who “disappeared” shortly before he turned three years old, becoming mute, refusing to make eye contact, and losing motor abilities, was first presented in an extract from a book published in the New York Times Magazine. Owen was diagnosed with regressive autism, which puts him in a distinct category than youngsters who are “born with it,” according to doctors.

Owen’s passion with Disney films persisted, encouraging his parents to harness his urge to speak by using characters and themes from those tales. Owen’s family and a psychotherapist utilized Disney movies to help Owen improve communication and social skills after a series of setbacks.

The project was a huge success, but one that took a long time to complete. Owen had a full and happy life by the age of 20.

Regressive Autism Is Extremely Rare

Although the narrative was encouraging, many parents who read it worried whether their own children might acquire regressive autism. As a result, Jennifer Richler of Slate magazine said that regressive autism does not exist in the way it is often thought. The phenomena of youngsters losing their talents becomes more improbable as they become older.

Richler, an autism expert, said Owen’s experience is “very unique.” The majority of autistic children who regress “do not have normal development to begin with,” meaning they have some delays in the development of their talents and may even lose some of the skills they have acquired.

Losses are more likely to occur before the age of three. Regression occurs at an average age of 21 months.

Richland also mentioned research showing that most children with autism spectrum condition lose certain abilities while gaining others in their first two years of life. According to a study published in the Development and Psychopathology journal, just 6% of children lose all of their abilities (like Owen). Those that were able to do so had limited abilities to begin with. Even if some important talents were lost, the remainder of them tended to preserve the bulk of their abilities.

Richland warns that tales of children regressing “are real and disturbing,” but reassures worried parents that this kind of regressive autism is uncommon, and that Owen’s story (and the efforts of his parents and a treatment team) is an unusual example of one way late-onset autism might manifest.

Signs that have gone unnoticed

Commenting on Richland’s article in Forbes magazine, Emily Willingham clarifies that regression in autism is less about when the symptoms appear and skills are lost, and more a case of “a critical threshold” of Signs that have gone unnoticed and accumulated deficits that finally become apparent and unmistakable.

Willingham cites a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in which researchers argued that standard methods for classifying the onset of autism (such as the Ages and Stages Questionnaire, Parents’ Evaluation of Developmental Status, and Child Development Inventories) are flawed, outdated, and in need of improvement.

According to the study’s authors, autism develops along three trajectories: early-onset autism, which shows low social-communication skills early in life; regression, which shows high levels of social-communication skills early on but declines over two years; and plateau, which shows typical levels of communication in the first year but stagnation and failure to make expected progress at the expected rate.

As a result, the loss of social interest occurs at various ages. Autism does not “kick in” beyond a certain time.

When autism is seen as a spectrum, identifying the loss of communication abilities becomes simpler when it occurs in youngsters who seem to lose their skills as they become older and in an abrupt manner. The deterioration seems to be more subtle in very young children, which is why the indicators are ignored until they become glaringly clear.

Reports from Parents

Another research published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that parents are adept at spotting developmental impairments in their children when they occur early in life. When children endure a “sharp fall” between the ages of 6 and 18 months following a time of regular growth, however, the parents are unaware.

Parents who had more time to adjust to the concept of having a neurotypical kid for a year or more, on the other hand, reported that their child’s final deterioration was more dramatic, leading to the conclusion that their child had a “regressive” type of autism.

Is it Possible to Reverse Regressive Autism?

Is it possible to cure or even reverse regressive autism? According to the BMC Medicine journal, corticosteroid medication may be useful in slowing the pace of regression in certain children.

The concept stems from the usage of such medicine in Landau-Kleffner syndrome (LKS), a rare childhood condition in which youngsters lose their ability to comprehend language and express themselves verbally. LKS is not on the autistic spectrum. Because it creates “severely aberrant electroencephalographic” activity when patients are sleeping, it is more related with seizures.

Other studies, such as one published in the journal Neurotherapeutics, have looked at a potential link between the autoimmune system and the pathophysiology of autism, which “raises the idea that steroids might be a beneficial therapy for regression in autism spectrum disease.”

The BMC Neurology journal published a research that looked at 20 persons with regressive autistic symptoms who had undergone steroid therapy and concluded that their clinical functioning had improved. Because there is no known treatment for autism with regression, particularly when it comes to the loss of language abilities, the BMC Medicine researchers indicated that corticosteroid medication might be a cautious starting point for additional study.

In autism research, regressive autism is still a contentious subject. According to current agreement, regression is a common aspect of autism, although it occurs at various ages for different individuals. As a consequence, it might be difficult to predict or recognize.


The “regressive autism symptoms” is a term used to describe a child’s autism that becomes less severe over time. It can be very difficult to determine if your child has regressive autism or not.

Frequently Asked Questions

How common is regressive autism?

A: Regressive autism is a form of autism in which the symptoms worsen. This can happen when children are forced to discontinue early intervention because an illness or some other life event isnt able to keep them on track with their development.

Is regressive autism severe?

A: However, the severity of your autism is not directly related to your IQ.

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