Pervasive Developmental Disorder

Five Conditions Fall Under This Category

Pervasive Developmental Disorder

There is a category of disorders named Pervasive Developmental Disorders. They are so named because they represent disorders characterized by social and communication skills impairments.

There are five conditions that fall under this category according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) which provides behavioral checklists for use during diagnosis.

1. Autism – a developmental brain disorder that impairs social interaction, and cognitive and linguistic development

2. Asperger’s Syndrome – a developmental brain disorder which typically impairs social interaction and certain cognitive abilities but has little or no language delay impact

3. Rett’s Disorder – a developmental brain disorder only identified in females to date and is characterized by psychomotor delay, poor coordination and inability to control use of hands

4. Childhood Disintegrative Disorder – a developmental brain disorder that does not appear until around age 2 when the child loses normal skills acquired to date in a number of areas including verbal, nonverbal, social interaction and adaptive behavior

5. Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)– a developmental brain disorder that does not meet any particular set of criteria but the child exhibits serious impairment in various behaviors

Children With Autism

The prevalence of children with autism continues to climb. Teaching children with autism symptoms remains a major challenge for many schools. A recent report by the CDC (Center for Disease Control) reviewed information from 14 states and found that approximately 1 in - 150 children, 8 years of age have Autism Spectrum Disorder. There is no national or Military registry so true prevalence is unknown but it is more common than childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes and pediatric AIDS combined.

Obviously with so many different conditions falling under Pervasive Development Disorder, a wide variety of symptoms will be found in children diagnosed with PDD. The depth and breadth of symptoms will also vary ranging from mild to severe in each category of verbal, nonverbal and social interaction abilities.

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PDD-NOS…A Threshold Disorder

PDD-NOS is called a “threshold” category and sometimes atypical autism. It is a condition that exhibits some of the traits and characteristics that define autism. It is a true diagnosis unlike PDD which is a category.

Pervasive developmental disorder encompasses the set of conditions as described above whereas PDD-NOS is a condition in and of itself. Sometimes people use PDD when they actually should be using PDD-NOS to describe a condition. Though PDD-NOS is a diagnosis, by its very definition there is no set of specific characteristics or symptoms that can be used to determine if a child has the condition.

As mentioned, PDD-NOS has some of the characteristics of autism. Most of the time the child diagnosed with PDD-NOS will have more social communication and interaction skills than a child with autism.

Sometimes pervasive developmental disorder can be referred to as autism spectrum disorders.

The Signs That PDD Is Present

The signs and symptoms of PDD often appear before a child is 3 years old. Unfortunately the symptoms can be so mild sometimes that they are not identified until the child is older. As a result the child enters school and has trouble with social interactions and learning. Bullying by other students is one of the common occurrences because other children intuitively understand the PDD child is “different” and recognize atypical responses in social settings.

Some of the common signs of PDD include the following.

• Problems making eye contact with others
• Atypical social responses
• Lack of emotion or facial expressions
• Failure to imitate the behaviors or actions of others
• Doesn’t make friends
• Speech impairments
• Lack of interest in surrounding environment
• Has no particular interests
• Repetitive and unusual physical movements

There is no particular medical test to prove whether or not a child has PDD. Normally what happens is the parents finally see a pattern in unusual behaviors or verbal communication or a failure of the child to interact normally with other children. At that point the best step is to have a doctor evaluate the child as soon as possible.

Treating PDD

PDD treatments are most effective when started as early as possible. The child will be tested in a number of ways to determine which areas of impairment exist. These means assessing the verbal and nonverbal skills, behavior patterns, social interaction skills, play behavior, home skills and school performance.

Early intervention is the best course of action which is why it’s so important to have a doctor(s) evaluate the child as soon as it is suspected that PDD is present. Since there are no definitive set of symptoms, the child’s treatment program will have to be customized to meet specific and unique needs.

Treatments may include the following:

• Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
  o Task analysis
  o Verbal behavior therapy
  o Discrete trial teaching (DTT)
• Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
• Social Skills Training
• Facilitated Communication
• Rapid Prompting Method

There is also a treatment called The Floor Time Approach and was developed by Dr. Stanley I. Greenspan. This treatment teaches children with Pervasive Developmental Disorder how to interact on an interpersonal level. It relies on play time based on the child’s interests (if they have been expressed).

The fact is treatment will normally involve a mixture of the various types of therapies mentioned above. As treatment progresses it will become clear that certain areas need more attention than others such as language development, anger management or social interaction.

Prevalence of PDD in Children

The US Department of Education did a study to determine the rate of growth in Autism Spectrum Disorders in classroom children. The study occurred over a 6 year period including the years 1992 through 1997. The results were alarming! They revealed a 173 percent increase in PDD rates over the 6 year period in public school children.

The US Center for Disease Control Autism Information Center reports that 1 out of every 850 eight-year old US children has Autism Spectral Disorder (ASD). These are school age children in need of special education. That is why teacher training and the availability of specialized educational materials including school themes are critical to these children’s success.

There are many sources of information available concerning Pervasive Developmental Disorder and the conditions falling under its umbrella. Following is a sample of websites offering a wealth of information.

• First Signs Early Warning Signs of Autism and Related Disorders

• Yale School of Medicine Child Study Center Yale

• Autism Research Institute (ARI) Autism Collaboration

• Autism Society of America (ASA) Improving the Lives of all Affected by Autism



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