Pervasive Developmental Disorder

What is Pervasive Developmental Disorder?

Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDDs) is a term that refers to a set of conditions involving some form of delay in basic skill development. Most commonly, it affects how a patient communicates, socializes with other people, and uses their imagination. PDDs are generally diagnosed in young children at about three years of age. At this stage of development, affected kids often become confused and have a difficult time comprehending their world. Though researchers are looking for answers, it is not yet known what exactly causes these conditions.

PDDs typically begin much earlier, but symptoms are not often visible until the toddler stage, when it becomes noticeable to parents that their child is developing differently from his peers. There are five main diagnoses of pervasive developmental disorder: autism, childhood disintegrative disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, Rett syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).

What are the Symptoms of Pervasive Developmental Disorder?

Each individual disorder presents itself with a unique set of symptoms. It is also worth noting that children with PDDs may show difficulty functioning in one area of development while performing very well in others. General symptoms that are often visible to some degree include:

  • Trouble with verbal and/or nonverbal communication
  • Difficulties with social interaction
  • Unusual forms of play
  • Trouble adjusting to changes in surroundings or routine
  • Repetitive behaviors and movements
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Unusual response to some auditory stimulations
  • Temper tantrums
  • Anxiety
  • Fearfulness
  • Aggressive behavior

Pervasive Developmental Disorder Causes

Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) refers to a group of five similar conditions, including autism and Asperger’s syndrome, as well as the less common Rett’s Syndrome, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, and PDD Not Otherwise Specified. All of these conditions except for Rett’s syndrome are commonly classified as autism spectrum disorders. There are fine distinctions between each of these conditions, but they are related insofar as they are all characterized by difficulties with communication and socialization, ranging from mild to profound.

Of these conditions, the causes of Rett’s syndrome are the best understood; it is the result of a mutation in the gene MECP2. The causes of autism spectrum disorders, however, remain poorly understood and are the subject of intense debate. Research from twin studies seems to indicate that genetics is the most important factor, but it is unclear which genes are responsible. Numerous environmental factors abundant in industrialized nations have been suggested as likely causes, including plastics, food preservatives, and metals, but much more research is needed. Childhood immunizations have been particularly demonized for their suspected role, but several studies have produced no evidence of a relationship.

How is Pervasive Developmental Disorder Treated?

Therapies vary depending on a child’s specific condition and will focus on what is needed most at home and school.

Treatments frequently involve a cooperative effort from teachers, parents, doctors, and anyone else who regularly interacts with the child. The goal is to improve the child’s communication and socialization while veering away behaviors that impede functioning and learning. Therefore, treatment might include behavior modification, special education, medications, and various forms of therapy.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder Prevention

There is no way to prevent PDDs; doctors and caregivers can only help affected individuals to live as independently as possible, and accurately diagnose it at a young age so that adequate support can be given as soon as is appropriate. Groups and individuals aligned with the Autism Rights Movement believe that a cure for autism is neither necessary nor desirable; even profoundly autistic individuals, given the right support, can lead fully productive lives.

The best way for parents or guardians of autistic children to avoid social or emotional dysfunction is to secure sufficient therapy to develop skills with language and social behavior. The goal of therapy is not to teach autistic children to imitate their “neurotypical” peers, but rather to ensure safety, develop job skills, and promote healthy social interaction.

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Last Reviewed:
September 14, 2016
Last Updated:
December 28, 2017