PANS/PANDAS in Children with Autism: What You Need to Know

Unlock the power of knowledge: PANS/PANDAS in autism demystified. Empower your family with understanding and support.

Understanding PANS/PANDAS in Autism

When it comes to understanding the complexities of autism, it is important to be aware of the potential role of PANS/PANDAS. Let's dive into what PANS/PANDAS is and how it is connected to autism.


PANS stands for Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome, while PANDAS stands for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections. Both PANS and PANDAS are conditions that involve sudden and severe behavioral changes in children, often triggered by infections.

In PANS, these infections can be bacterial, viral, or fungal, and they lead to an immune system response that impacts the brain, resulting in a range of neuropsychiatric symptoms. PANDAS, on the other hand, specifically refers to cases where the infection is caused by streptococcal bacteria, such as strep throat.

Children with PANS/PANDAS may experience symptoms such as sudden onset of obsessive-compulsive behaviors, tics, anxiety, mood swings, irritability, and cognitive difficulties. It is essential to recognize that while PANS/PANDAS can occur in individuals with autism, it can also affect children without an underlying autism diagnosis.

The Connection Between PANS/PANDAS and Autism

Research has shown a possible connection between PANS/PANDAS and autism. Studies have found that a subset of children with autism may experience symptoms consistent with PANS/PANDAS, indicating a potential overlap between the two conditions.

While the exact relationship between PANS/PANDAS and autism is still being investigated, it is believed that the immune system dysfunction observed in PANS/PANDAS may contribute to the development or exacerbation of autism symptoms in some cases. However, it is important to note that not all individuals with autism will have PANS/PANDAS, and vice versa.

Understanding the connection between PANS/PANDAS and autism can help parents and caregivers navigate the complexities of their child's condition. If you suspect that your child may be experiencing symptoms related to PANS/PANDAS, it is important to seek proper evaluation and guidance from healthcare professionals.

Recognizing the Symptoms

Understanding the symptoms of PANS/PANDAS in children with autism is crucial for early identification and intervention. In this section, we will explore the common symptoms of PANS/PANDAS in autism and how they differ from typical autism symptoms.

Common Symptoms of PANS/PANDAS in Autism

Children with autism who also have PANS/PANDAS may experience a range of symptoms that can significantly impact their daily lives. These symptoms may include:

  1. Abrupt Onset of Symptoms: PANS/PANDAS is characterized by a sudden and dramatic onset of symptoms, which may occur overnight or within a few days. These symptoms can include anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, irritability, aggression, and sudden changes in mood and behavior.
  2. Motor and Sensory Abnormalities: Children with PANS/PANDAS in autism may exhibit motor abnormalities such as tics, choreiform movements, or difficulty with coordination. Sensory abnormalities, including hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to sensory stimuli, can also be present.
  3. Cognitive and Behavioral Changes: PANS/PANDAS can lead to cognitive and behavioral changes that are distinct from typical autism symptoms. These changes may include regression in skills, academic decline, difficulty with attention and concentration, memory problems, and emotional lability.
  4. Sleep Disturbances: Children with PANS/PANDAS in autism may experience disruptions in their sleep patterns, such as insomnia, night awakenings, or frequent nightmares. These sleep disturbances can further impact their overall well-being and behavior.

It's important to note that the presence of these symptoms does not necessarily indicate the presence of PANS/PANDAS. A comprehensive evaluation by a healthcare professional is essential for an accurate diagnosis.

How PANS/PANDAS Symptoms Differ from Typical Autism Symptoms

While there may be some overlap between the symptoms of PANS/PANDAS and autism, there are key differences to be aware of. Understanding these differences can help parents and healthcare professionals identify the possibility of PANS/PANDAS in children with autism. Here are a few differentiating factors:

  1. Acute Onset: PANS/PANDAS symptoms typically have an acute onset, with a sudden and rapid escalation of symptoms. In contrast, typical autism symptoms are more gradual in onset and are often present from early childhood.
  2. Fluctuating Course: PANS/PANDAS symptoms can fluctuate over time, with periods of symptom exacerbation followed by periods of relative improvement. This episodic nature of symptoms is not typically seen in typical autism, where symptoms tend to be more stable.
  3. Association with Infections: PANS/PANDAS is often triggered by an infectious illness, such as streptococcal infections (PANDAS) or other infections (PANS). In contrast, typical autism is not directly linked to infection.
  4. Specific Behavioral Changes: PANS/PANDAS symptoms may involve sudden and severe behavioral changes, including the onset of obsessive-compulsive behaviors, anxiety, or mood swings. While some of these behaviors may also be present in autism, the sudden and dramatic nature of these changes is more characteristic of PANS/PANDAS.

Recognizing these distinctions can help parents and healthcare professionals determine when further evaluation for PANS/PANDAS may be necessary. If you suspect your child may have PANS/PANDAS, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional who specializes in this area.

Seeking a Diagnosis

When it comes to PANS/PANDAS in autism, obtaining a timely and accurate diagnosis is essential for effective management. The diagnostic process involves evaluating the presence of PANS/PANDAS symptoms in children with autism and following specific diagnostic criteria.

Evaluating PANS/PANDAS in Autism

To evaluate whether a child with autism may be experiencing PANS/PANDAS, healthcare professionals conduct a comprehensive assessment. This assessment involves gathering information about the child's medical history, including any recent infections or sudden onset of symptoms. It is important to note that PANS/PANDAS is typically associated with an acute onset of symptoms, which can be different from the gradual development of typical autism symptoms.

During the evaluation, healthcare professionals may consider the child's behavioral changes, physical symptoms, and any psychiatric symptoms that are not typical for their baseline autism diagnosis. It is crucial to involve a multidisciplinary team of specialists, including pediatricians, neurologists, psychiatrists, and immunologists, to ensure a thorough evaluation.

Diagnostic Criteria and Evaluation Process

The diagnosis of PANS/PANDAS in children with autism involves meeting specific diagnostic criteria. The criteria vary, but generally include the following:

  1. Acute onset and sudden behavioral or cognitive regression, accompanied by obsessive-compulsive behaviors, intense anxiety, and/or emotional and behavioral dysregulation.
  2. Association with an infectious trigger, such as streptococcus infection or other microbial infections.
  3. Temporal association between the onset or exacerbation of symptoms and the infectious trigger.

It is important to consult with healthcare professionals who are knowledgeable about PANS/PANDAS and autism to ensure accurate evaluation and diagnosis. They will follow a thorough evaluation process, which may include medical history review, physical examination, laboratory tests, and psychological assessments.

By obtaining a proper diagnosis, families can gain a better understanding of the underlying causes of their child's symptoms and pursue appropriate treatment options.

Remember, early detection and intervention are crucial in improving the outcomes for children with PANS/PANDAS and autism. If you suspect that your child may be experiencing PANS/PANDAS symptoms, consult with healthcare professionals to initiate the necessary evaluations and ensure your child receives the appropriate support and treatment.

Treatment Options

Medical Interventions for PANS/PANDAS in Autism

When it comes to managing PANS/PANDAS in autism, a comprehensive treatment approach is essential. Medical interventions play a crucial role in addressing the underlying causes and managing the symptoms associated with this condition.

Note: It is important to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the most appropriate treatment plan for your child.

Medical interventions for PANS/PANDAS in autism may include:

  1. Antibiotics: Antibiotics, such as penicillin or azithromycin, may be prescribed to target and eliminate any underlying bacterial infections that may be triggering PANS/PANDAS symptoms. It's important to follow the prescribed dosage and duration as recommended by the healthcare provider.
  2. Anti-inflammatory Medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, may be recommended to help reduce inflammation and alleviate symptoms associated with PANS/PANDAS.
  3. Immunomodulatory Therapies: In certain cases, immunomodulatory therapies may be used to regulate the immune system and reduce the autoimmune response associated with PANS/PANDAS. These therapies may include intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) or plasma exchange.
  4. Psychiatric Medications: In some instances, psychiatric medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or antipsychotics, may be prescribed to manage specific symptoms like anxiety, OCD-like behaviors, or mood disturbances.

Therapeutic Approaches for Managing PANS/PANDAS Symptoms

In addition to medical interventions, therapeutic approaches can be highly beneficial in managing the symptoms of PANS/PANDAS in autism. These therapies aim to support the overall well-being of the child and address specific challenges associated with this condition.

Some therapeutic approaches that may be considered include:

  1. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT can help children with PANS/PANDAS develop coping strategies to manage anxiety, OCD symptoms, and other behavioral difficulties. It focuses on identifying and modifying negative thought patterns and behaviors.
  2. Occupational Therapy (OT): OT can assist children in developing fine motor skills, sensory integration, and self-regulation techniques. This therapy helps children improve their daily functioning and adapt to various environments.
  3. Speech and Language Therapy: Speech and language therapy can be beneficial for children with PANS/PANDAS who experience communication difficulties. It aims to enhance language skills, social interaction, and pragmatic language abilities.
  4. Nutritional Support: A well-balanced diet and nutritional support can contribute to overall health and well-being. Working with a registered dietitian or nutritionist can help develop a personalized plan to meet the specific nutritional needs of the child.

Remember, every child is unique, and the treatment plan for PANS/PANDAS in autism should be tailored to their individual needs. It is important to work closely with healthcare professionals who specialize in PANS/PANDAS to determine the most effective combination of medical interventions and therapeutic approaches.

Empowering Families

When facing the challenges of PANS/PANDAS in autism, it is crucial for families to feel empowered and supported. Here are some key strategies for building a support network, advocating for your child's needs, and promoting self-care for parents and caregivers.

Building a Support Network

Building a strong support network is essential for families navigating the complexities of PANS/PANDAS in autism. Connecting with other families who are going through similar experiences can provide a sense of understanding, empathy, and practical advice. Consider joining support groups, both online and in-person, where you can share experiences, exchange information, and learn from others who have walked a similar path. These support networks can also be a valuable resource for finding recommendations for healthcare providers, therapists, and other specialists who are knowledgeable about PANS/PANDAS. Remember, you are not alone in this journey, and having a support network by your side can make a significant difference.

Advocating for Your Child's Needs

Advocacy plays a crucial role in ensuring that your child with PANS/PANDAS and autism receives the appropriate support and services they need. As a parent or caregiver, it's important to become well-informed about PANS/PANDAS and its connection to autism. Educate yourself about the latest research, treatment options, and available resources. This knowledge will empower you to effectively communicate with healthcare providers, educators, and other professionals involved in your child's care. Be proactive in seeking evaluations, assessments, and appropriate interventions to address your child's specific needs. Remember to keep detailed records of your child's symptoms, treatments, and progress. These records can be valuable when advocating for appropriate services and accommodations.

Promoting Self-Care for Parents and Caregivers

Caring for a child with PANS/PANDAS and autism can be physically, emotionally, and mentally demanding. It is essential for parents and caregivers to prioritize self-care to maintain their own well-being. Taking care of yourself not only benefits your own health but also enables you to better support your child. Here are a few self-care strategies to consider:

  • Seek support: Reach out to friends, family, or support groups to share your feelings and experiences. Talking to others who understand can provide comfort and validation.
  • Take breaks: It's important to take regular breaks from caregiving responsibilities. Schedule time for activities that bring you joy and relaxation. Even short breaks can make a significant difference in reducing stress levels.
  • Prioritize health: Ensure that you are taking care of your physical health by eating nutritious meals, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep. Remember, self-care is not selfish; it is essential for your overall well-being.
  • Find outlets for stress: Engage in activities that help you manage stress, such as practicing mindfulness, journaling, listening to music, or pursuing hobbies. Find what works best for you and incorporate it into your daily routine.
  • Ask for help: Don't hesitate to ask for help when needed. Reach out to friends, family, or support services to share the caregiving responsibilities. Remember, it's okay to lean on others for support.

By building a support network, advocating for your child's needs, and prioritizing self-care, you can empower your family to navigate the challenges of PANS/PANDAS in autism with resilience and strength. Remember to stay informed and seek guidance from healthcare professionals who specialize in PANS/PANDAS in autism. Together, you can make a positive impact on your child's well-being and overall family dynamics.


PANS/PANDAS in autism is complex and requires a comprehensive approach to management. Early detection and intervention are crucial for better outcomes. Seek proper evaluation and guidance from healthcare professionals if you suspect your child may be experiencing symptoms.

A proper diagnosis is important to gain a better understanding of the underlying causes and pursue appropriate treatment options. Medical interventions and therapeutic approaches can help manage symptoms.

Building a strong support network and advocating for your child are essential. Caring for a child with PANS/PANDAS and autism can be demanding, so prioritize self-care for your own well-being.