Autism FAQ - Similar Conditions
There are a number of diseases which cause children to display some
of the symptoms of autism. Also, on occasion, brain injury has
caused people to display some of the symptoms of autism. Some
- Some children who exhibit symptoms similar to autism have
been discovered to be deaf. A child should always have his hearing
checked before being identified as autistic.
- Inborn error in carbohydrate metabolism. [Inability
to metabolize galactose?]
- Heller's Disease
- Normal development to age 3 or 4, then abrupt
onset of fretfulness, negativism and anxiety. Regression of
mental development and gradual loss of speech.
- LKS "Landau-Kleffner Syndrome"
- Also Acquired Childhood Epileptic Aphasia.
Very rare disorder. Typical profile: normal development and age
appropriate language first 3-7 years; Loss of receptive language
while retaining some expressive language; "Telegraphic" speech--few
verbs; Suspicion of deafness; Child frustrated, puzzled by change
in himself; Autistic-like behaviors; normal or above normal
non-verbal IQ score; abnormal EEG, with or without seizures. Some
practitioners suspect that some cases of Childhood Disintegrative
Disorder or "late outset" autism may be Landau-Kleffner Syndrome.
- PKU "Phenylketonuria"
- A genetic disorder of the metabolism which
will result in brain-damage during the first years of life unless
special dietary measures are taken. Inadequate production of the
enzyme which converts the amino acid phenylalanine into another
amino acid, tyrosine. The extra phenylalanine accumulates in body
fluids and converts to several chemicals that damage the brain.
Symptoms include mental retardation as well as some of the symptoms
of autism. PKU has been eliminated by screening all children
immediately after birth so proper dietary measures can be taken.
- Rett's Syndrome
- a neurological disorder that occurs only in girls.
Unlike autism, girls initially show normal development, then
revert. The initial symptoms include some that are associated
with autism. From DSM IV:
DIAGNOSTIC CRITERIA FOR 299.80 RETT'S DISORDER (females only)
A. All of the following:
(1) apparently normal prenatal and postnatal development (2)
apparently normal psychomotor develop (3) normal head circumference
B. Onset of all of the following after a period of normal
(1) deceleration of head growth between ages 5 and 48 months (2)
loss of previously acquired purposeful hand skills between ages 5
and 30 months with subsequent development of stereotyped hand
movements (e.g. hand wringing or hand washing) (3) loss of social
engagment early in the course (although social interaction often
develops later) (4) appearance of poorly coordinated gait or trunk
movements (5) severely impaired expressive and receptive language
development with severe pyschomotor retardation.
- Childhood Disintegrative Disorder
- Much rarer than autism. I've seen references which treat this
as a synonym for Heller's Disease (see above).
From DSM IV:
DIAGNOSTIC CRITERIA FOR 299.10 CHILDHOOD DISINTEGRATIVE DISORDER
A. Apparently normal development for at least the first 2 years
after birth as manifested by the presence of age appropriate verbal
and nonverbal communication, social relationships, play and adaptive
B. Clinically significant loss of previously acquired skills
(before age 10 years in at least two of the following areas:
(1) expressive or receptive language (2) social skills or adaptive
behavior (3) bowel or bladder control (4) play (5) motor skills
C. Abnormalities of functioning in at least two of the following
(1) qualitative impairment in social interaction (e.g., impairment
in nonverbal behaviors, failure to develop peer relationships, lack
of social or emotional reciprocity)
2) qualitative impairments in communication (e.g., delay or lack of
the development of spoken language, inability to initiate or sustain
a conversation, stereotyped and repetitive use of language, lack of
verbal make-believe play)
(3) Restricted repetitive & stereotyped patterns of behavior,
interests and activities, including motor stereotypes and
D. The disturbance is not better accounted for by another specific
Pervasive Developmental Disorder or by Schizophrenia.
- Tourette's Syndrome
- a condition thought to be genetic that causes
uncontrollable motor and/or vocal tics. A major longterm study is
being conducted by David Cummings, who published a thick book on the
genetic links between various neurological disorders. (Not easy
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Obsessions are thoughts or images
that are involuntary, intrusive, and anxiety-provoking. Compulsions
are impulses to perform a variety of stereotyped behaviors or
rituals. OCD is a neurological disorder, cause uncertain. However,
it is often confused with obsessions and compulsions caused by
mental illness or simple neurosis, in much the way that the term
"Autism" has been used to refer to any person who is severely
withdrawn. For a clearer picture of OCD, read The Boy Who Wouldn't
Stop Washing (Judith Rapaport). Clinical OCD
has easily categorized symptomology that tend to occur at certain
stages of life; counting and sorting and "evening out" usually start
during childhood, "grooming" compulsions usually start at puberty,
and "ruminating" (obsessions) usually begin during adulthood.
- Cocktail party speech syndrome
- a syndrome comprising the following
characteristics: (1) A perseveration of response, either echoing the
examiner, or repetition of an earlier statement made by the child.
(2) An excessive use of social phrases in conversation. (3) An
over-familiarity in manner, unusual for one's age. (4) A habit of
introducing personal experience into the conversation in irrelevant
and inappropriate contexts. (5) Fluent and normally well
- Asperger's Syndrome
- Similar to Autism except that language
development is normal. In some people's minds, the same thing as
high-functioning Autism. From DSM IV (p77):
DIAGNOSTIC CRITERIA FOR 299.80 ASPERGER'S DISORDER
A. Qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by
at least two of the following:
(1) marked impairments in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors
such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and
gestures to regulate social interaction
(2) failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to
(3) a lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or
achievements with other people (e.g. by a lack of showing,
bringing, or pointing out objects of interest to other people)
(4) lack of social or emotional reciprocity
B. Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior,
interests, and activities, as manifested by at least one of the
(1) encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and
restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in
intensity or focus
(2) apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional
routines or rituals
(3) stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g., hand or
finger flapping or twisting, or complex whole-body movements)
(4) persistent preoccupation with parts of objects
C. The disturbance causes clinically significant impairments in
social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning
D. There is no clinically significant general delay in language
(e.g., single words used by age 2 years, communicative phrases used
by age 3 years)
E. There is no clinically significant delay in cognitive
development or in the development of age-appropriate self-help
skills, adaptive behavior (other than social interaction), and
curiosity about the environment in childhood
F. Criteria are not met for another specific Pervasive
Developmental Disorder of Schizophrenia
- Nonverbal learning disabilities
- Semantic-pragmatic speech disorder (Semantic Pragmatic Disorder
- A communication problem with mild autistic symptoms
and problems generalizing.
- a mental illness which can result in behavior similar
to autism. Unlike autism, schizophrenia usually starts in
adolescence or early adulthood, and involves delusions or
hallucinations. Note that "Childhood Schizophrenia" used to refer
to what we now label "Autism" and that the former term is still
used in some circles.
- PDD or PDD/NOS or PDD-NOS "Pervasive Development Disorder/Not
- PDD therefore becomes a term for individuals
who do not fully meet the medical criteria for autism, but it is a
very loose term. From DSM IV:
299.80 PERVASIVE DEVELOPMETAL DISORDER
NOT OTHER SPECIFIED (including Atypical Autism)
This category should be used when there is a severe and pervasive
impairment the development of reciprocal social interaction,
verbal and nonverbal communication skills, or when the stereotyped
behavior, interest and activities are present, but the criteria are
not met by a specific Pervasive Developmental Disorder,
Schizophrenia, Schizotypal Personality Disorder or Avoidant
Personality Disorder. For example, this category includes "atypical
autism" - presentations that do not meet the criteria for Autistic
Disorder because of late age at onset, atypical symptomatology, or
subthreshold symptomology (note; fewer than 6 items), or all
- mucopolysaccharoidoises (Type I)
- Has coincided with autism.
- adenylosuccinate lyase deficiency
- a disorder of nucleic acid
metabolism. Has coincided with autism.
- Childhood aphasia
- Receptive Developmental Dysphasia
- Celiac's disease
- Gluten intolerance (?)
- Fragile-X Syndrome
- The most common cause of inherited mental
retardation, with an incidence of about 1/1500 in males and 1/2500
in females. The inheritance pattern of the disease is unlike other
X-linked disorders, because it shows significant numbers of
apparently unaffected male carriers and some clinically affected
females. The disease derives its name from the presence of a
fragile site on the X chromosome of affected individuals.
- ADD "Attention Deficit Disorder"
- A disorder consisting of having a
short attention span. Dr. C.
Gillberg from Sweden has proposed (in addition to others) that
there may be a continuum from ADD to autism. He proposes that some
kids are in the middle of the continuum, with a combination of ADD
and autistic features. These kids often have "soft" neurologic
signs (incl. fine and/or gross motor coordination problems) in
addition to their ADD, and are socially awkward.
- ADHD "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder"
- Another term for ADD when the person is also hyperactive.
Thought to be
caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, which results in a
biological deficiency in a childs ability to concentrate.
Diagnosis of ADHD is a grey area: there are 18 criteria involved in
identifying ADHD including such traits as inability to concentrate
and aggressiveness. The question of how many criteria a child must
have before pharmaceutical treatment is however still debated. A
daily dose of a controversial prescription drug called RITALIN, has
been reported to cause marked improvement in childrens behaviour.
- Tuberous Sclerosis
- a disorder consisting of precocious reading development,
disordered language acquisition and social and behavioral
deficits. It is a matter of discussion whether to consider it a
type of autism or asperger's syndrome.
- Manic Depression
- Autistic Children who have no apparent
neurological basis for their disorders may actually be suffering
from an inherited, early-onset form of manic-depression, according
to results of two studies conducted at Duke University Medical
Center, Durham, NC. The findings were reported in the May and
August 1994 issues of "Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology."
- Angelman Syndrome
- resembles autism only superficially since Angelman
kids are profoundly retarded and (somtimes?) don't
exhibit the lack of empathy, eye contact, etc. typical of autism.
It is caused by a particular defect in chromosome 15 which
can be diagnosed accurately by chromosome testing.
The other name for it is the Happy Puppet because the
children's limbs are usually held out from the body
stiffly and the children always have a smiling countenance.
Besides extreme retardation, other symptoms include
low muscle tone, recurring seizures, sleep disorders,
gastrointetinal problems, and slow development.
Another syndrome caused by a defect in chromosome 15 is Prader-Willi.
- Smith-Magenis Syndrome
- has a lot of autistic characiteristics.
Caused by a particular defect in the 17th chromosome.
- Klinefelter Syndromes
- Having an XXY chromosome. It is easily
testable through genetic testing and occurs in about 1 in 1000
births. Often includes developmental and language impairment,
and has been correlated with some kinds of withdrawn behavior.
- DAS "Developmental Apraxia of Speech"
- Also known as "Developmental Verbal Dyspraxia".
A neurologically-based speech disorder observed in children learning to
speak. It affects the rate of speech development, the number of sounds
in a child's repertoire, and the child's ability to combine sounds
during the production of words.
- Lactic Acidosis
- tendency to accumulate of lacitic acid in the
blood. It's connection with autism is that it has been found to
coincide with autism more than chance would dictate.
- The inability to recognize faces, also known as face blindness.
- Irlen Syndrome/Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome (SSS)
- Visual perceptual problem identified by Helen Irlen which
causes (among other things) black-on-white print to be difficult
to read, and which can be alleviated by filtering out portions
of the light spectrum with colored glasses.
See Irlen Lenses under treatment.
- Turner's syndrome
- A syndrome in females where they are missing one of their
two X chromosomes.
- Carnitine Deficiency
- A condition which can have symptoms similar to Reye's Syndrome.
It can be caused by genetic factors.
Others I've heard mentioned:
Congenital Rubella Syndrome, Hypomelanosis of Ito,
mucopolysacchrides, fetal alcohol effect, cocaine use during
pregnancy, Anxiety disorders, Mucopolysaccharidoses (MPS),
Lesch-Nyhan Syndrome, Intermittent Explosive Disorder, static
encephalopathy, sleep disorder, abnormal fear structure, Cornelia de
Lange Syndrome, Wilsons Disease, Aphasia, Schizoid Personality
Disorder, Porphyria (?), Bi-Polar Affective Disorder, Defiant
Disorder, Spacial Planning Disorder, Neurofibromatosis,