Pervasive Developmental Disorder PDD

boy alone on beach autism

What is Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD)?

The term “pervasive development disorders,” also called PDDs, refers to a group of conditions that involve delays in the development of many basic skills, most notably the ability to socialize with others, to communicate, and to use imagination.

Children with these conditions often are confused in their thinking and generally have problems understanding the world around them.

Because these conditions typically are identified in children around 3 years of age — a critical period in a child’s development — they are called development disorders. Although the condition begins far earlier than 3 years of age, parents often do not notice a problem until the child is a toddler who is not walking, talking, or developing as well as other children of the same age.

Autism Spectrum Disorders

The forms of autism are thought to overlap considerably. But the fact that there is wide variation in symptoms among children with autism led to the concept of autism spectrum disorder.

Autism seems to be on the rise, and autism spectrum disorders affect between two and six children out of every 1,000 in the U.S. It’s unclear, though, whether the growing incidence of autism represents a real increase or just improved detection.

Early diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder is important. That’s because detection leads to treatment, and with early treatment, a child with autism can gain improved language and social skills.

What Conditions Are Considered Pervasive Development Disorders?

There are five types of pervasive development disorders:

  • Autism:
    Children with autism have problems with social interaction, pretend play, and communication. They also have a limited range of activities and interests. Many (nearly 75%) of children with autism also have some degree of mental retardation.
  • Asperger’s syndrome:
    Like children with autism, children with Asperger’s syndrome have difficulty with social interaction and communication, and have a narrow range of interests. However, children with Asperger’s have average or above average intelligence, and develop normally in the areas of language and cognition (the mental processes related to thinking and learning). Children with Asperger’s often also have difficulty concentrating and may have poor coordination.
  • Childhood disintegrative disorder:
    Children with this rare condition begin their development normally in all areas, physical and mental. At some point, usually between 2 and 10 years of age, a child with this illness loses many of the skills he or she has developed. In addition to the loss of social and language skills, a child with disintegrative disorder may lose control of other functions, including bowel and bladder control.
  • Rett’s syndrome:
    Children with this very rare disorder have the symptoms associated with a PDD and also suffer problems with physical development. They generally suffer the loss of many motor or movement, skills — such as walking and use of their hands — and develop poor coordination. This condition has been linked to a defect on the X chromosome, so it almost always affects girls.
  • Pervasive development disorder not otherwise specified (PDDNOS):
    This category is used to refer to children who have significant problems with communication and play, and some difficulty interacting with others, but are too social to be considered autistic.

What Are the Symptoms of Pervasive Development Disorders?

The use of the word “pervasive” to describe these illnesses is somewhat misleading. The definition of pervasive is “to be present throughout,” but children with PDDs generally do not have problems in all areas of functioning. Rather, most children with PDDs have specific problem areas and often function very well in other areas.

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