PANS/PANDAS in Children with Autism

Discover the link between PANS/PANDAS and autism in children's health. Explore symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and support resources.

By Arms Wide Open ABA

June 20, 2024

Understanding PANS/PANDAS

PANS (Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome) and PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections) are two related conditions that affect children's health. These disorders are characterized by the sudden onset of neuropsychiatric symptoms, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), tics, anxiety, and mood changes. In this section, we will explore what PANS/PANDAS are and the link between these conditions and autism.


PANS/PANDAS are considered to be autoimmune disorders that occur as a result of the body's immune response to an infection, particularly streptococcal infections. In PANS, the sudden onset of neuropsychiatric symptoms is triggered by various infectious agents, not limited to streptococcus. PANDAS specifically refers to cases where streptococcus is the triggering factor.

The exact mechanisms behind PANS/PANDAS are still being studied, but it is believed that the immune response leads to inflammation in the brain, affecting normal neurological function. This inflammation can result in a range of symptoms, often appearing abruptly and dramatically, which can cause significant distress and impairment in affected children.

The Link Between PANS/PANDAS and Autism

While PANS/PANDAS and autism are distinct conditions, there is an observed overlap between the two. Some children with PANS/PANDAS may also have a diagnosis of autism or exhibit symptoms commonly associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, it's important to note that not all individuals with PANS/PANDAS have autism, and vice versa.

Research has shown that children with both PANS/PANDAS and autism may experience more severe symptoms and a higher level of impairment compared to those with either condition alone. The co-occurrence of these conditions can present unique challenges in diagnosis and treatment, as the symptoms of PANS/PANDAS can mask or be mistaken for autism symptoms.

Understanding the relationship between PANS/PANDAS and autism is an ongoing area of study. Further research is needed to fully elucidate the underlying mechanisms and determine the best approaches for diagnosis and treatment. By recognizing the potential connection between these conditions, healthcare professionals can provide more comprehensive care and support to children who may be affected by both PANS/PANDAS and autism.

In the next sections, we will delve deeper into the signs and symptoms of PANS/PANDAS, the diagnostic criteria, available treatment options, and the impact of PANS/PANDAS on children with autism. Additionally, we will explore the support and resources available to help individuals and families navigate these complex conditions.

Signs and Symptoms

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome (PANS) and Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections (PANDAS) is crucial for early detection and appropriate management. While PANS and PANDAS share similarities with autism, they also have distinct symptoms that set them apart. In this section, we will explore the common symptoms of PANS/PANDAS and the overlapping symptoms with autism.

Common Symptoms of PANS/PANDAS

PANS/PANDAS are characterized by a sudden onset of neuropsychiatric symptoms, typically following an infection. The symptoms can be severe and may include:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) behaviors
  • Tics or involuntary movements
  • Anxiety and emotional dysregulation
  • Sensory sensitivities
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Behavioral regression
  • Cognitive difficulties
  • Motor abnormalities

It's important to note that these symptoms can vary in severity and may fluctuate over time. The sudden and acute nature of these symptoms, along with their association with infections, distinguishes PANS/PANDAS from other neurodevelopmental disorders.

Overlapping Symptoms with Autism

While PANS/PANDAS have distinct symptoms, there are also overlapping symptoms with autism. This can make it challenging to differentiate between the two conditions. Some of the overlapping symptoms include:

  • Social communication difficulties
  • Repetitive behaviors
  • Restricted interests
  • Sensory sensitivities

It is essential to consider the context and timing of symptom onset when assessing whether a child's symptoms are related to PANS/PANDAS or autism. The sudden and acute onset of symptoms following an infection is more indicative of PANS/PANDAS, whereas autism is typically characterized by persistent developmental differences from early childhood.

To further understand the distinction between PANS/PANDAS and autism, a comprehensive evaluation by a healthcare professional specializing in neurodevelopmental disorders is necessary. This evaluation may include a thorough medical history, clinical observation, and various assessments.

By recognizing the common symptoms of PANS/PANDAS and understanding the overlapping symptoms with autism, healthcare professionals can provide accurate diagnoses and appropriate interventions for children who may be affected by these conditions. Early identification and effective treatment are key to improving outcomes and quality of life for children and their families.

Diagnosis and Treatment

When it comes to PANS/PANDAS, an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment are essential in managing the condition effectively. In this section, we will explore the diagnostic criteria for PANS/PANDAS and discuss the available treatment options.

Diagnostic Criteria for PANS/PANDAS

Diagnosing PANS/PANDAS can be challenging as it requires careful evaluation of symptoms and medical history. The diagnostic criteria for PANS/PANDAS include the following key factors:

  1. Symptoms: The child must experience a sudden onset of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or severely restricted food intake, as well as at least two additional neuropsychiatric symptoms. These can include anxiety, depression, irritability, aggression, emotional lability, or behavioral regression.
  2. Temporal Association: The symptoms of PANS/PANDAS must be linked to a recent infection, such as streptococcal infection (for PANDAS) or other infectious agents like viruses (for PANS). The onset or exacerbation of symptoms should occur within a narrow time frame after the infection.
  3. Exclusionary Criteria: Other medical or psychiatric conditions that can cause similar symptoms must be ruled out. This is done through a comprehensive evaluation by a healthcare professional.

It's important to consult with a qualified healthcare provider, such as a pediatrician or a specialist in PANS/PANDAS, for an accurate diagnosis based on these criteria.

Treatment Options for PANS/PANDAS

The treatment approach for PANS/PANDAS typically involves a combination of medical interventions and supportive therapies. The goal is to reduce symptoms, manage underlying infections, and promote overall well-being. Here are some common treatment options:

  1. Antibiotics: If the child has PANDAS and a confirmed streptococcal infection, antibiotics may be prescribed to eradicate the infection and potentially alleviate symptoms. This is particularly effective in cases where streptococcal infections are the trigger for symptom onset.
  2. Immunomodulatory Therapy: In some cases, immunomodulatory therapies may be recommended to regulate the immune system and reduce inflammation. This can include treatments such as intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) or plasma exchange.
  3. Psychiatric Medications: Medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or atypical antipsychotics may be prescribed to manage specific symptoms, such as anxiety or OCD.
  4. Supportive Therapies: Various supportive therapies can help manage symptoms and improve overall well-being. These may include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), occupational therapy, speech therapy, and nutritional support.

The specific treatment plan will depend on the individual's symptoms, medical history, and the healthcare provider's expertise. It's vital to work closely with a knowledgeable healthcare team to develop a comprehensive and personalized treatment approach for PANS/PANDAS.

By following the diagnostic criteria and exploring the available treatment options, individuals with PANS/PANDAS can receive the necessary support and care to manage their condition effectively. Early detection, accurate diagnosis, and appropriate treatment can significantly improve the quality of life for children with PANS/PANDAS.

Exploring the Connection to Autism

The relationship between PANS/PANDAS and autism is an area of ongoing research and investigation. In this section, we will delve into the research findings and studies that have explored this connection, as well as how PANS/PANDAS can impact children with autism.

Research Findings and Studies

Numerous studies have investigated the potential links between PANS/PANDAS and autism. While the exact nature of the relationship is still being explored, some research suggests that there may be overlapping symptoms and shared underlying mechanisms between the two conditions.

A study published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology found that children with PANS/PANDAS were more likely to exhibit symptoms of autism compared to the general population. The study also highlighted the importance of considering PANS/PANDAS in children who present with atypical behaviors or regression, especially if there is a history of streptococcal infections.

Another study published in the Journal of Neuroimmunology examined the presence of specific autoantibodies in children with PANS/PANDAS and autism. The researchers found a higher prevalence of these autoantibodies in children with both conditions, suggesting a potential shared immune dysregulation mechanism.

While these studies provide valuable insights, it is important to note that more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between PANS/PANDAS and autism. The complex interplay of genetic, environmental, and immune factors makes it a challenging area to study, requiring further investigation.

How PANS/PANDAS Impacts Children with Autism

For children already diagnosed with autism, the presence of PANS/PANDAS can further complicate their symptoms and overall well-being. The sudden onset or exacerbation of symptoms associated with PANS/PANDAS, such as anxiety, OCD, tics, and behavioral changes, can significantly impact the functioning and quality of life of children with autism.

The co-occurrence of PANS/PANDAS and autism may require a comprehensive treatment approach that addresses both conditions. This may involve a combination of medical interventions, such as antibiotic therapy to target underlying infections, anti-inflammatory medications, and behavioral interventions to address the behavioral and emotional symptoms.

It is important for healthcare professionals and caregivers to be aware of the potential connection between PANS/PANDAS and autism in order to provide appropriate support and treatment. Collaborating with medical professionals experienced in both PANS/PANDAS and autism can help ensure a comprehensive care plan tailored to the individual needs of the child.

While further research is needed to fully understand the complexities of the relationship between PANS/PANDAS and autism, recognizing and addressing these overlapping conditions can potentially improve the overall well-being and functioning of children affected by both.

Support and Resources

When it comes to understanding and managing PANS/PANDAS in children with autism, it's essential to have access to the right support and resources. This section highlights two key areas of support: finding medical professionals and connecting with support groups and organizations.

Finding Medical Professionals

Finding the right medical professionals who are knowledgeable about PANS/PANDAS and its connection to autism is crucial for proper diagnosis and treatment. Here are some resources and suggestions to help you in your search:

Remember to consult with your healthcare provider before making any decisions regarding your child's medical care.

Support Groups and Organizations

Connecting with support groups and organizations can provide invaluable emotional support, information, and resources for families navigating PANS/PANDAS and autism. Consider exploring the following options:

By accessing these support networks and resources, you can gain valuable insights, find emotional support, and connect with individuals who have firsthand experience in managing PANS/PANDAS and autism. Remember, every child is unique, and it's important to consult with healthcare professionals for personalized guidance and care.


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