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Is autism a degenerative developmental disability?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

Not all forms of autism spectrum disorder are degenerative developmental disabilities. However, there is some overlap between the classification of a condition as a degenerative developmental disability and as an autism spectrum disorder. For example, Rett syndrome is a degenerative developmental disability, but it is also part of the group of disorders considered ASDs.

William Stillman
Health Education Specialist

Autism is not a degenerative condition that gradually deteriorates one's ability to function such as an untreated disease does. However, when parents and caregivers do not presume the intellect of their loved one with autism by feeding his or her hungry brain at chronological age level (not below it!), the individual with autism can only know what they are exposed to and cannot advance intellectually.

In other words, if you believe your nine-year-old with autism functions at a three-year-old level (because this is how he tests), providing him with infant toys and Baby Einstein videos is not communicating a presumption of intellect at age nine; and your child's "condition" may indeed appear degenerative because he cannot progress beyond what he is provided. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.