What is Pervasive Developmental Disorder?

Pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) usually starts to noticeably affect children at the age of 3, but you may notice symptoms as early as infancy. The terms PDD and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have been used interchangeably for years. But are they the same, and what does PDD actually include? In this article, we explore PDD and the five developmental disorders that fall under this umbrella term to help you get the advice you and your child need.

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What Is PDD?

A boy wearing a gray vest and pink dress shirt holding a book

Image by Ben White is licensed with Unsplash License

Now included under the umbrella term ASD, PDD is a term used to describe a group of developmental disorders characterized by impairments in social interaction, communication skills, and repetitive behaviors. Common symptoms in children with PDD or ASD include:

  • Communication difficulties, such as difficulty understanding or using language.
  • Limited social skills and difficulty understanding social cues.
  • Challenges with forming relationships.
  • Developmental delays in gross or fine motor skills, cognitive skills, or adaptive functioning.
  • Repetitive behaviors and restricted interests.
  • Difficulties with any disruption or changes in routine or surroundings.
  • Unusual ways of playing with toys and other objects.
  • Extreme sensitivities to loud noises, textures, and lights.

The symptoms for children with PDD vary widely when it comes to speech and behavior. Some children don’t speak at all, while others may communicate using limited phrases or conversations. Others have relatively average language skills. This can often make it hard to diagnose at a young age without a professional assessment.

Is Autism a PDD?

Yes, autism, or ASD, is a type of PDD. Autism encompasses a range of conditions characterized by difficulties with social skills, repetitive behaviors, and communication. It encompasses a wide range of symptoms and severity levels, which is why it’s referred to as a “spectrum” disorder. Children with ASD may experience difficulties in areas such as social skills, verbal and nonverbal communication, sensory processing, and behavior. It’s typically diagnosed based on a comprehensive evaluation of a child’s behavior, development, and medical history.

What Are the 5 PDDs?

Here are overviews of the five disorders commonly included under the umbrella of PDD or ASD.

Autistic Disorder (Classic Autism)

Autistic disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by significant impairments in social interaction, communication skills, restricted interests, and repetitive behaviors. Children with autistic disorder may exhibit a wide range of symptoms and severity levels. This may impact their daily functioning and interactions with others.

Rett Syndrome

Rett syndrome is a rare genetic neurological disorder that predominantly affects females. You can typically notice it in infancy or early childhood. The condition is characterized by developmental regression, loss of purposeful hand skills, repetitive hand movements, and other neurological symptoms.

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder

Also known as Heller’s syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD) is a rare developmental disorder where a child loses a significant amount of acquired skills in multiple areas, such as language, social skills, and motor abilities. It usually occurs after a period of normal development. Children with CDD may experience a profound regression in abilities, leading to significant impairments in daily functioning and communication.

Asperger’s Syndrome

Asperger’s is characterized by difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, as well as restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. It’s similar to other autistic disorders but typically has less severe symptoms and no significant delays in language or cognitive development. However, with changes in diagnostic criteria, Asperger’s is no longer recognized as a separate diagnosis, and children who would have previously been diagnosed with Asperger’s are now considered to be on the autism spectrum.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified

Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) is a diagnosis that was used to describe children who exhibited pervasive developmental impairments but did not meet all the criteria for other specific PDDs, such as autism or Asperger’s. It includes a wide range of symptoms and severity levels, making it a heterogeneous diagnosis. With changes in diagnostic criteria and classification systems, PDD-NOS is no longer used as a distinct diagnosis, and children who would have previously been diagnosed with PDD-NOS are now considered to have ASD.

Is Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder a PDD?

No, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) isn’t classified as a PDD or ASD. However, ADHD can frequently occur in those with PDD. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder where children have difficulty focusing, completing tasks, organizing activities, and controlling impulses. This hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity interfere with daily functioning and development. While ADHD and ASD can share some overlapping symptoms, they’re two separate disorders and require different diagnostic criteria and treatment approaches.

How Do I Know if My Child Has PDD?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children aged 18 to 24 months old should be screened for PDD or ASD. To diagnose PDD in children, our team of healthcare professionals at NeuroHealth Arlington Heights will perform a thorough evaluation. This may include assessing the following factors:

  • Any issues during pregnancy or in the child’s medical history, such as ear infections or seizures.
  • Developmental milestones and any sensory challenges.
  • Family history of developmental, genetic, or metabolic disorders.
  • Behavior, cognitive function, and language skills.

Treatment Options for PDD

While there’s no known cure for PDD, medications may be used to address specific behavioral problems, and specialized therapy can help support the unique needs of each child. Early intervention plays a critical role in improving outcomes and the quality of life for children with PDD. Treatments vary according to the specific needs of each child and may include:

  • Psychotherapy.
  • Specialized education programs offering one-to-one classroom support.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy.
  • Family counseling and parental training.
  • Medication, especially for children with anxiety or severe behavioral problems.

Our therapists, who specialize in treatments for ASD, can provide sessions that help develop a wide range of skills, including language and social skills.

Visit NeuroHealth Arlington Heights

If you notice unusual symptoms or behaviors in your child that may suggest a PDD, it’s important to request a professional evaluation. Early detection and intervention can significantly improve the quality of life for children with PDD. Consulting with a health care professional, such as a neuropsychological specialist, can provide an accurate diagnosis, valuable guidance, and access to appropriate resources and support. Remember, you’re not alone in this journey, and reaching out for help is the first step toward understanding and addressing your child’s unique needs. Contact NeuroHealth Arlington Heights to schedule an assessment.

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NeuroHealth AH

With more than 25 years of experience diagnosing and treating mental health difficulties, NeuroHealth AH is your trusted expert in neuropsychology. We have a long-standing reputation for providing comprehensive and solution-oriented mental health services in the Chicago area.