Pickwickian Syndrome

What is Pickwickian Syndrome?

Pickwickian syndrome is a disorder caused by inherited gene defect which causes severe mental retardation. The condition affects both humans and animals. Some affected individuals are able to live normal lives with little or no problems. Others suffer from extreme social isolation, poor motor skills, and other physical disabilities. There have been cases where the afflicted become violent criminals or even serial killers.

The cause of the disease is not known, but it seems to affect only certain genes. Most likely, there are several genetic defects involved in causing the condition. One theory suggests that these defective genes may be responsible for different types of diseases such as cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, and Huntington’s Disease.

Symptoms of Pickwickian Syndrome

People suffering from the condition usually display many symptoms. Each person may experience a different combination and severity of symptoms.

Physical growth is often normal at birth and during childhood, but slows down drastically after the age of 15. Most people with Pickwickian Syndrome become shorter than average. They have a small, thin build and small limbs.

Mental retardation: The mental capabilities of an individual with the condition are much lower than average. Most affected people show little or no development of communication skills, social skills, or reasoning.

Problems with speech: The ability to speak is usually affected. Most children with Pickwickian Syndrome have no normal speech, while others may start learning to talk, then lose the ability before adulthood. Those who keep it may never speak correct words and sentences.

Behavioral problems: There are often behavioral issues in people suffering from the condition. They may display self-injurious behavior (such as head-banging), temper tantrums, or aggression.

Sleep problems: Many people with Pickwickian Syndrome have trouble going to sleep, and may sleep much of the day. Some individuals suffer from narcolepsy and sleep for much of the day and night.

Novels about Pickwickian Syndrome

There are no novels or literature specifically about Pickwickian Syndrome. There are, however, some works of fiction that include characters with similar conditions. The writers may or may not have been aware of Pickwickian Syndrome.

One example is Temple from the Solomon Creed series by William John in which a character named Temple was raised in isolation and speaks a made-up language. In the novel Going After Calico, by Rita Mae Brown, one of the main characters suffers from brain damage and has trouble speaking clearly. The main character in Sunshine by Robin McKinley has little communication abilities and requires around the clock care.


There are no organizations that provide information or support for people with Pickwickian Syndrome or their families. There may be organizations in your area, but more than likely they are for specific disabilities or specific age groups. Here are some resources that may be able to help you:

Local Offices of Education can direct you to services in your community. You can find yours by looking in the government pages of the phone book under “Department of Education.”

The Muscular Dystrophy Association has many branches in different areas. Call them at (800) 572-1717 or look under “Health” in the phone book.

The Special Olympics organizes athletic events for children and adults with learning and physical disabilities. Find out if there is an office in your community. Call them at (301) 885-4373 or look under “Charity” in the phone book.

The Easter Seal Society also organizes sporting events and recreational opportunities for children and adults with disabilities. Again, find out if there is one in your area. Call them at (313) 579-5390 or look under “Charity” in the phone book.

Other Resources

Newspapers and magazines often do stories on people with unusual medical conditions. These stories can be very helpful in giving you and your child the attention and support you both need. Try contacting your local newspaper or magazine and explaining your situation.

You can also write or call your local congressperson, as sometimes the government will provide funding for specialized medical care. You can find your congressperson by looking in the government pages of the phone book under “United States Government.”

Whether you write a letter or not, you can also contact a doctor who specializes in your child’s condition. Many physicians research what causes medical conditions and are trying to find cures. You may be able to benefit from their work.

Try to get the word out about your child’s condition. If enough people know about it, then someone else may have had a similar condition, which may lead to an early diagnosis.

Return To Home Page

Return to The Library

Sources & references used in this article:

Extreme obesity associated with alveolar hypoventilation—a Pickwickian syndrome by CS Burwell, ED Robin, RD Whaley… – The American journal of …, 1956 – amjmed.com

Hypercapnia in the obstructive sleep apnea syndrome: a reevaluation of the “Pickwickian syndrome” by DM Rapoport, SM Garay, H Epstein, RM Goldring – Chest, 1986 – Elsevier

Progesterone for outpatient treatment of Pickwickian syndrome by FD SUTTON Jr, CW ZWILLICH… – Annals of Internal …, 1975 – acpjournals.org

The Pickwickian syndrome—obesity hypoventilation syndrome by SW Littleton, B Mokhlesi – Clinics in chest medicine, 2009 – chestmed.theclinics.com