Pervasive developmental disorders

Pervasive developmental disorders characterize a group of conditions that affect the ability to socialize and communicate and may interrupt normal development of fundamental skills. The most widely known of these disorders is autism. Pervasive developmental disorders begin early in life and start to reveal apparent symptoms at about 3 years of age, the time when most children are walking, talking and beginning to learn in other areas. Following is a brief description of each specific disorder that can be defined under the spectrum of pervasive developmental disorders:

  • Autism – problems with development of social interaction and communication, limited range of interests and possible mental retardation.
  • Asperger's syndrome – similar to autism regarding social skills and interests, but coupled with a normal or above average level of intelligence. Thinking and learning are generally not affected, unless concentration and poor coordination play a role in developmental skills.
  • Rett's syndrome – a rare disorder that is similar to autism, but also includes problems with physical development. This condition typically affects girls and can cause severe problems with motor skills and movement.
  • Childhood disintegrative disorder – a rare condition that causes a child to progress normally for a period of 2 to 10 years, and then suddenly lose abilities and skills which have developed. This may include language and social skills, as well as the loss of control of bodily functions, such as the bladder and bowels.
  • PDDNOS (pervasive developmental disorders not otherwise specified) – this is a non-specific diagnosis that either categorizes a child who show difficulty in the specified areas, but is too social to be considered autistic, or is not far enough advanced to define a more specific diagnosis.


Symptoms of Pervasive Developmental Disorders


Each of the five disorders that fall under the pervasive developmental disorders category displays similar symptoms. While each is a separate disorder with differing characteristics, the following are common among all:

  • Difficulty with language, including speaking and comprehension
  • Difficulty with social settings, including making eye contact, proper use of objects and proper interaction with people or during events
  • Displays unusual behavior when playing
  • Experiences extreme difficulty with change or unfamiliarity
  • Repetition in body movements, such as foot tapping, vigorous hand waving, excessive twirling of the hair, etc.
  • Normal functioning in one area of behavior with problems or odd behavior in another


Causes for Pervasive Developmental Disorders


There is currently no known cause for pervasive developmental disorders. In searching for prevention methods and cures for these types of disorders, research reveals that problems with the nervous system may lead to autism, Asperger's syndrome and other conditions like these. Answers are still being sought regarding possible causes and how to properly treat pervasive developmental disorders.


Diagnosis of Pervasive Developmental Disorders


When symptoms resemble those of pervasive developmental disorders, a doctor will likely first perform a physical examination to see if any medical conditions are contributing to the behavior. If all are ruled out, a psychiatrist or psychologist can help to distinguish which of these development disorders are present, if any. If a child's behavior cannot be classified into one particular condition, or if a therapist is reluctant to make a full determination until further evaluation, the general diagnosis of PDDNOS may be given.


Treatment for Pervasive Developmental Disorders


Treatment for pervasive developmental disorders should vary by individual and depend largely upon the specifics that are currently affecting the child or adult. There are no current medications which can treat or cure these disorders, but underlying symptoms such as anxiety or hyperactivity may improve with a prescription. A plan can be developed, with help from schools, doctors and parents, to promote socialization, limit debilitating behavior and help the child to progress as normally as possible. Special education, behavior modification training and speech or physical therapy may be significantly beneficial.