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Pervasive Developmental Disorders

What are Pervasive Developmental Disorders?

The term Pervasive Developmental Disorders was first used in the 1980s to describe a class of disorders. This class of disorders has in common the following characteristics: impairments in social interaction, imaginative activity, verbal and nonverbal communication skills, and a limited number of interests and activities that tend to be repetitive.

Types of Pervasive Developmental Disorders

There are five main types of pervasive developmental disorders:

  1. Autistic Disorder
    • Autistic Disorder, sometimes referred to as early infantile autism or childhood autism, is four times more common in boys than in girls. Children with Autistic Disorder have a moderate to severe range of communication, socialization, and behavior problems. Many children with autism also have mental retardation.
  2. Rett's Disorder
    • Rett's Disorder, also known as Rett Syndrome, is diagnosed primarily in females. In children with Rett's Disorder, development proceeds in an apparently normal fashion over the first 6 to 18 months at which point parents notice a change in their child's behavior and some regression or loss of abilities, especially in gross motor skills such as walking and moving. This is followed by an obvious loss in abilities such as speech, reasoning, and hand use. The repetition of certain meaningless gestures or movements is an important clue to diagnosing Rett's Disorder; these gestures typically consist of constant hand-wringing or hand-washing (Moeschler, Gibbs, & Graham 1990).
  3. Childhood Disintegrative Disorder
    • Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, an extremely rare disorder, is a clearly apparent regression in multiple areas of functioning (such as the ability to move, bladder and bowel control, and social and language skills) following a period of at least 2 years of apparently normal development. By definition, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder can only be diagnosed if the symptoms are preceded by at least 2 years of normal development and the onset of decline is prior to age 10.
  4. Asperger's Disorder
    • Asperger's Disorder, also referred to as Asperger's or Asperger's Syndrome, is a developmental disorder characterized by a lack of social skills; difficulty with social relationships; poor coordination and poor concentration; and a restricted range of interests, but normal intelligence and adequate language skills in the areas of vocabulary and grammar. Asperger's Disorder appears to have a somewhat later onset than Autistic Disorder, or at least is recognized later. An individual with Asperger's Disorder does not possess a significant delay in language development; however, he or she may have difficulty understanding the subtleties used in conversation, such as irony and humor. Also, while many individuals with autism have mental retardation, a person with Asperger's possesses an average to above average intelligence (Autism Society of America, 1995). Asperger's is sometimes incorrectly referred to as "high-functioning autism."
  5. Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, or PDDNOS
    • Children with PDDNOS either (a) do not fully meet the criteria of symptoms clinicians use to diagnose any of the four specific types of PDD above, and/or (b) do not have the degree of impairment described in any of the above four PDD specific types.

Symptoms of Pervasive Developmental Disorders

All types of Pervasive developmental disorder are neurological disorders. Pervasive developmental disorders are characterized by severe and pervasive impairment in several areas of development:

  • social interaction skills;
  • communication skills; or
  • the presence of stereotyped behavior, interests, and activities.


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