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Pervasive Developmental Disorder -Types, Causes, and Management

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Pervasive developmental disorders are a group of disorders that present with developmental delays with difficulty in social interaction.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Abhishek Juneja

Published At February 22, 2023
Reviewed AtFebruary 2, 2024

What Are Pervasive Developmental Disorders?

Pervasive developmental disorders are a group of mental health disorders now popularly known as autism spectrum disorders. Subjects with pervasive developmental disorders usually have difficulties in social interaction and developmental delays. The cause of the disorder remains unknown, and studies suggest genetic defects most likely cause the disorder. The disorder's symptoms are noted during infancy; the typical onset of the condition is generally before age 3. Children with pervasive developmental disorders face multiple problems like difficulty in social interactions and fumbled speech. PDD was said as an autism spectrum disorder in 2013 in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DMS of Mental Disorders).

What Does PDD Stand For?

Here PDD stands for pervasive developmental disorders. Pervasive developmental disorders include autism, Asperger syndrome, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified(PDD-NOS).

What Are the Types of Pervasive Developmental Disorders?

Pervasive developmental disorders consist of 5 mental health conditions, which are as follows:

  • Autistic Disorder: A neurological disorder that affects the ability to interact, behave, and communicate in society.

  • Asperger’s Disorder: A developmental disorder where a person has difficulty relating to others socially and has repetitive and rigid thinking patterns.

  • Rett’s Disorder: A rare genetic neurological disorder that affects the formation and functioning of the brain and affects an individual's cognitive function; this disorder is usually diagnosed after six months as the developmental process is entirely normal till the age of 6 months after birth.

  • Childhood Disintegrative Disorder: Children with childhood disintegrative disorder usually present with motor mental disability, which can be characterized by significant central nervous system damage; this damage or underdevelopment ultimately leads to a lack of motor and intellectual skills.

  • Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (Pdd-Nos): A neurological disorder also referred to as atypical autism. Subjects with this disorder usually present with compromised mental development that leads to impaired social ability and abnormal behavioral patterns.

What Are the Symptoms of Pervasive Developmental Disorders?

Children with pervasive developmental disorders present with the following symptoms:

  • Inappropriate social behaviors.

  • Underdeveloped intellectual and cognitive behaviors.

  • Difficulty in transitions.

  • Altered sensitivity to taste, sight, sound, smell, or touch.

  • Inability to speak in some cases, or slurred speech.

  • Weird responses to loud noise and lights.

  • Repetitive behaviors like turning lights on and off or opening and closing doors.

What Are the Diagnostic Criteria for Pervasive Developmental Disorders?

For any child to be diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorders, a child must fulfill the following criteria:

  • A child has well-functioning abilities but lacks communication abilities.

  • Children present with all the symptoms of autism, but the onset of the symptoms is delayed.

  • The child presents with all the symptoms of autism, but they lack preservative behaviors that differentiate the disorder and confirm the diagnosis.

A diagnostic test called pervasive developmental disorders screening test (PDDST) is a screening test carried out at 18 to 36 months to rule out disorders irrespective of the symptoms present or absent.

This screening test is designed with three principles:

  • Parents report the behaviors and the frequencies of the actions, and these actions are then correlated with the symptoms of pervasive developmental disorders.

  • The clinician closely monitors the child and studies, reports, and documents the symptoms and behaviors that are later correlated with the criteria for pervasive developmental disorders; here, parents are unaware of the disorder; thus clinician validates the final results.

  • Any person reporting the symptoms must be careful to avoid false positive results and human and diagnostic errors.

What Is the Prognosis of the Disorder?

If the disorder is reported, diagnosed early, and appropriately guided, the symptoms can be overcome, and the child can be trained to lead an everyday social life. In addition, pervasive developmental disorders are not fatal, and children with these disorders have an average life expectancy. Thus early intervention and timely help are essential in improving the treatment results.

What Are the Causes of Pervasive Developmental Disorders?

The exact cause of the problem remains unknown; the studies show that researchers believe the conditions are caused due to defects in the genes. However, the theory has not been proven to date, as many other genes, along with autistic genes, are considered to be involved. Other possible causes include using medications, viral infections during pregnancy or birth, and chromosomal abnormalities.

How Are Pervasive Developmental Disorders Treated?

The treatment is a combination of pharmacotherapy counseling and speech therapy. The treatment plan is tailored differently for every child, depending on the patient's needs.

The treatment mainly looks at encouraging and training the child in a way that they can interact socially, play with children around them, and talk to them.

Various Therapies That Are Used Include:

  • Psychotherapy.

  • Speech therapies.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy.

  • Occupational therapy.

  • Sensory integrated therapy.

  • Applied behavioral analysis.

Medications: Symptomatic medications can treat and control the disorder's symptoms like anxiety, aggression, etc.

Commonly used medications are:

  • Anti-anxiety and anti-depression pills.

  • Antipsychotic drugs.

  • Stimulants are similar to those used in patients with attention deficit disorders.

Other therapies include lifestyle, dietary modifications, personality development lessons, etc.


Pervasive developmental disorders are a group of mental health disorders that affect a child's brain development, leading to impaired cognitive behaviors. These disorders include Autism, Asperger's Disorder, Rett's Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). These disorders are diagnosed during early childhood.

The exact etiology of the disorder remains unknown, but it is considered to be caused by faulty genes. It is believed that along with the autistic gene, some other genes are altered and result in these conditions. As a result, children with Pervasive Developmental Disorders have difficulties socializing, interacting with others, understanding their emotions, and relating to them; they are also seen with rigid and repetitive behaviors.

The diagnosis is based on the symptoms presented, and the child's genetic makeup can be studied to know the cause of the disorder. No specific treatment or permanent cure is available, but the current treatment aims to minimize the child's symptoms and encourage the child to interact and socialize. The treatment options include counseling, psychotherapy, speech therapy, etc.

Dr. Abhishek Juneja
Dr. Abhishek Juneja



pervasive developmental disorder
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