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Regression in autism is normal

Mar 13, 2024, Healthline: What Is Regression in Autism?

Autistic regression refers to a loss of previously acquired skills or a backtracking of developmental milestones. In young children, it may represent autism onset. In older children and adults, it may be a sign of autistic burnout.


Developmental regression in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) describes a loss or reversal of previously established skills or milestones during childhood.


Regression may become evident across multiple areas, including:

language

social skills

emotional regulation

motor function

self-directed behavior

.

. .Regression in ASD

Autistic regression refers to a reversal or plateau in a child’s developmental progress.


“Regression in autism is exactly what the name implies,” Lacey Cottingham, a licensed clinical social worker from Raleigh, North Carolina, told Healthline. “You are autistic. You were able to do a set of things, and then you find you can’t do those things anymore.”


Autistic regression may occur after an established ASD diagnosis, in what’s called “late regression,” or it may be one way ASD presents during early childhood and that leads to diagnosis.


A 2019 review indicates that for approximately one-third of children, ASD onset is signified by the loss of established skills after typical development.


Is autistic regression possible in adults?

Regression in autism is possible for adults as well as children. . . .


Possible causes of autistic regression


Why regression happens in ASD isn’t clear. When it comes to early onset symptoms, some experts believe developmental regression may represent a subtype of ASD.


A multicenter study from 2022, for example, suggests regressive ASD is associated with more severe core symptoms, lower neurocognitive developmental levels, and a higher need for support than nonregressive ASD.


Experiencing regression after an ASD diagnosis may develop from autistic burnout, even in children, says Myszak, though it’s more likely a factor for older children than younger ones.


“I believe causes of autistic regression are rooted in sudden changes that have a meaningful impact on the emotional safety of the person,” Cottingham added. “While a child of the neuromajority may experience stress for 2–3 days, an autistic child will need longer to fully learn and adapt.”


Signs of regression in autistic children

According to a 2023 review, language and social skills are common areas where regression in autistic children becomes evident.


Signs of regression may include:


loss of previously used words or phrases

overall decreased communication

new challenges in forming sentences

grammar mistakes

reverting to infantile sounds, like cooing or babbling

not understanding communication from others

social withdrawal

reduced eye contact

not acknowledging social cues

lack of interest in peer engagement

not wanting to share or take turns


. . . .

Regression associated with ASD onset may improve with the proper support, though not all children fully recover skills that were lost. Professional guidance can help autistic children develop new, successful ways to adapt and engage with the world around them.

When regression is related to autistic burnout, coping skills and stress management may help.


“Speaking very broadly and generally, if you can clear up whatever led to the anxiety or stress, you’ll fix the regression,” Cottingham said. . . .


Frequently asked questions


Understanding more about autistic regression can help you find the best support for you or your child.


What age is autism regression common?


According to 2021 research, early onset autistic regression typically occurs between ages 18–24 months, while late regression has a mean onset of 13 years.


Can regressive autism be stopped?


Regressive autism is not a progressive condition, meaning you won’t continue to lose baseline skills until they’re all gone. While the severity of regression may vary, Myszak says many people can regain lost milestones with the proper support and stress management.

How long does autism regression last?


How long autism regression lasts varies by individual. Some developmental regression, such as that seen in early ASD onset, can last a lifetime, while other experiences only continue for days or weeks.


Support can also make a difference for an autistic child experiencing regression.

“The length of a regression varies and can be relatively short-lived or last for years,” Myszak said.


Takeaway


Developmental regression is commonly seen in children with neurodevelopmental conditions like autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It involves a loss of established skills.


While some skills lost in early onset regression may not be recovered, the level of ASD support may help children adjust to changes in function.


 



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