Rett Syndrome Association of Australia | What is Rett syndrome?

What is Rett syndrome?


Rett syndrome (RTT) which is seen almost exclusively in females, is a genetic disorder in which the brain does not mature in the way it should. For most affected children, their early development appears normal but then slows down or suddenly halts. This period of their lives can be marked by most, if not all, of the following:

                    non-purposeful repetitive hand movement
                    reduced eye contact
                    night laughter
                    problems with walking
                    loss of communication ability
                    breathing problems (breath holding, fast breathing, and/or air swallowing)
                    electroencephalogram (EEG) irregularities
                    slowing of head growth
                    varying degree of intellectual disability.

As the Rett syndrome child grows, most, if not all, of the following may become apparent:

                    muscle stiffness
                    cold bluish-red feet and legs and/or small feet
                    chewing/swallowing difficulties
                    abnormal sleep patterns
                    teeth grinding
                    spinal curvature
                    growth retardation
                    decreased body fat and muscle mass
                    tip-toe walking
                    decreased mobility.

Apraxia (dyspraxia) i.e., where the brain has difficulty putting in place the automatic planning needed to carry out voluntary movement, is the most fundamental and severely handicapping aspect of RTT.


The degree of disability varies considerably among affected individuals, so much so that two individuals of the same age can present two totally different pictures of the disorder. The syndrome is not one involving continual degeneration of the brain. However, over time, gross motor ability is likely to deteriorate. Generally, the condition is not one in which there is a continuous downward trend but one where times of improvement alternate with periods of impairment and deterioration.


The disorder was first brought to the attention of the medical profession in 1966 by an Austrian paediatric neurologist, Andreas Rett, but it wasn’t until 1983, following publication of an article by Swedish researcher Bengt Hagberg and others, that females in Australia and elsewhere began to be diagnosed.