Pervasive Developmental Disorder: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about PDD, including its symptoms, causes, and treatment.

Alan Hollander
December 5, 2023

Pervasive Developmental Disorder: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about PDD, including its symptoms, causes, and treatment.

Understanding Pervasive Developmental Disorder

Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) is a term used to describe a group of neurodevelopmental disorders that affect individuals in various ways. Understanding the basics of PDD is essential for recognizing and addressing the associated symptoms. This section will provide an overview of what PDD is and the different types of PDD that exist.

What is Pervasive Developmental Disorder?

Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) is a neurological condition that affects an individual's social interaction, communication, and behavior. It is characterized by a range of developmental delays and challenges, which can vary in severity. PDD falls under the umbrella term of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), encompassing several related disorders.

PDD affects the way individuals perceive and interact with the world around them. It can impact their ability to communicate effectively, understand nonverbal cues, and engage in social relationships. People with PDD may also exhibit repetitive behaviors, restricted interests, and sensory sensitivities.

Different Types of Pervasive Developmental Disorder

There are different types of PDD, each with its own set of symptoms and characteristics. The primary types of PDD include:

  1. Autistic Disorder (Autism): This is the most well-known type of PDD. It is characterized by significant impairments in social interaction and communication skills. Individuals with autism may also display repetitive behaviors and have specific areas of intense interest.
  2. Asperger's Syndrome: Individuals with Asperger's Syndrome typically exhibit milder symptoms compared to those with autism. They may have challenges with social interaction, nonverbal communication, and understanding social cues. However, they often possess strong language and cognitive abilities.
  3. Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS): PDD-NOS is diagnosed when an individual exhibits some, but not all, of the criteria for autism or Asperger's Syndrome. It is often used as a diagnosis when symptoms do not fit neatly into one specific category.
  4. Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD): CDD is a rare form of PDD where children develop typically for a period of time, usually up to the age of three or four, and then experience a significant loss of previously acquired skills in multiple areas, such as language, social interaction, and motor skills.

It's important to note that in 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) grouped these different types of PDD under the umbrella term of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This change was made to better reflect the range of symptoms and characteristics within the autism spectrum.

Understanding the basics of PDD and the different types is the first step towards recognizing and seeking appropriate support and interventions for individuals with PDD.

Free Backview of Girl Holding Plush Toy while walkingon Dirt Road  Stock Photo

Common Symptoms of Pervasive Developmental Disorder

Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) is characterized by a range of symptoms that affect social communication, behavior, and sensory processing. Understanding these symptoms is crucial in identifying and addressing the challenges faced by individuals with PDD. In this section, we will explore the common symptoms associated with PDD, including social communication difficulties, repetitive behaviors and restricted interests, and sensory sensitivities.

Social Communication Difficulties

One of the hallmark symptoms of PDD is social communication difficulties. Individuals with PDD may struggle to engage in reciprocal conversations and have difficulty understanding and using nonverbal cues, such as facial expressions and body language. They may have challenges with:

  • Initiating and maintaining conversations
  • Understanding and appropriately responding to social cues and social norms
  • Taking turns during conversations
  • Interpreting and using gestures, tone of voice, and facial expressions

These difficulties can impact the individual's ability to form and maintain meaningful relationships with others. Early intervention, such as speech therapy and social skills training, can help individuals with PDD develop their social communication skills.

Repetitive Behaviors and Restricted Interests

Another common symptom of PDD is the presence of repetitive behaviors and restricted interests. Individuals with PDD may engage in repetitive movements, such as hand flapping or body rocking. They may also exhibit rigid adherence to routines and rituals, becoming upset or distressed when these routines are disrupted. Some individuals with PDD may develop intense, specific interests in certain topics or objects and may struggle to engage in flexible, spontaneous play.

These repetitive behaviors and restricted interests can serve as a way for individuals with PDD to self-regulate or find comfort in their environment. However, they may interfere with social interactions and limit the individual's ability to engage in a variety of activities. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy and occupational therapy are often used to address these behaviors and promote flexibility and adaptability.

Sensory Sensitivities

Sensory sensitivities are also commonly observed in individuals with PDD. They may have heightened or diminished responses to sensory stimuli, such as sounds, lights, textures, or smells. These sensitivities can vary from person to person. Some individuals may be hypersensitive, becoming overwhelmed by certain sensory inputs, while others may be hyposensitive, seeking out intense sensory experiences.

The sensory sensitivities experienced by individuals with PDD can significantly impact their daily lives. They may exhibit aversive reactions or seek out specific sensory experiences to regulate their sensory system. Occupational therapy and sensory integration therapy can help individuals with PDD develop coping strategies and improve their sensory processing abilities.

Understanding the common symptoms of PDD is vital for early identification and intervention. It's important to note that every individual with PDD is unique, and the severity and combination of symptoms can vary widely. If you suspect that your child or a loved one may be exhibiting symptoms of PDD, seeking professional help and a comprehensive evaluation is essential.

Early Signs and Red Flags

Recognizing the early signs and red flags of pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) is essential for early intervention and support. While every individual with PDD is unique, there are common areas where symptoms may manifest. In this section, we will explore three key areas to look out for: communication and language delays, social interaction challenges, and unusual sensory responses.

Communication and Language Delays

One of the early signs of PDD is delayed or atypical communication and language development. Children with PDD may exhibit difficulties in expressing themselves verbally or understanding spoken language. They may have limited vocabulary, struggle with grammar, or find it challenging to engage in conversations with others. Some common red flags in this area include:

  • Delayed onset of babbling or speaking.
  • Limited use of gestures or non-verbal communication.
  • Lack of age-appropriate language skills.
  • Repetitive or echolalic speech (repeating words or phrases without understanding their meaning).

If you notice any of these communication and language delays in your child, it is important to seek professional help for further evaluation and support.

Social Interaction Challenges

Difficulties in social interaction are another key characteristic of PDD. Children with PDD may struggle to engage in age-appropriate social interactions and may exhibit behaviors that hinder their ability to form and maintain relationships. Some common social interaction challenges in children with PDD include:

  • Limited eye contact or avoidance of social gaze.
  • Difficulty understanding social cues, such as facial expressions or body language.
  • Lack of interest in interacting with peers or difficulty initiating and maintaining conversations.
  • Limited understanding of social rules and norms.

Recognizing these social interaction challenges early on can help in providing appropriate interventions and support for your child. If you suspect your child may be facing social interaction difficulties, it is advisable to consult with professionals who specialize in PDD diagnosis and intervention.

Unusual Sensory Responses

Unusual sensory responses are often observed in individuals with PDD. They may have heightened sensitivity or hypo-responsiveness to sensory stimuli. These sensory sensitivities can affect one or multiple senses, including sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Some signs of unusual sensory responses in individuals with PDD include:

  • Overreacting to certain sounds, textures, or smells.
  • Seeking out or avoiding specific types of sensory input.
  • Difficulty with transitions or changes in routine due to sensory sensitivities.
  • Unusual fascination with certain sensory experiences, such as repetitive movements or intense focus on certain objects.

Understanding and addressing these sensory sensitivities is crucial in creating a supportive environment for individuals with PDD. Seek guidance from professionals who can provide strategies and interventions to help manage and accommodate these sensory needs.

By recognizing the early signs and red flags of PDD, parents and caregivers can take proactive steps to seek appropriate evaluation, diagnosis, and support for their child. Early intervention plays a vital role in optimizing outcomes and helping individuals with PDD reach their full potential.

Diagnosis and Evaluation

When it comes to pervasive developmental disorder, obtaining a proper diagnosis is crucial for understanding and managing the symptoms effectively. This section will delve into the process of seeking professional help, the diagnostic criteria for pervasive developmental disorder, and the evaluation and assessment process.

Seeking Professional Help

If you suspect that your child or loved one may be exhibiting symptoms of pervasive developmental disorder, it is essential to seek professional help. Start by consulting with a healthcare provider or a developmental specialist who specializes in evaluating and diagnosing neurodevelopmental disorders. They will be able to guide you through the diagnostic process and provide the necessary support and resources.

Diagnostic Criteria for Pervasive Developmental Disorder

To receive a diagnosis of pervasive developmental disorder, individuals must meet specific diagnostic criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The DSM-5 provides a standardized set of criteria that professionals use to identify and classify different psychological disorders.

The diagnostic criteria for pervasive developmental disorder include persistent deficits in social communication and interaction across multiple contexts, as well as restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviors, interests, or activities. These symptoms must be present during early childhood and significantly impact the individual's daily functioning.

Evaluation and Assessment Process

The evaluation and assessment process for pervasive developmental disorder typically involves multiple steps and professionals. It may include:

  1. Developmental History: The professional will gather detailed information about the individual's developmental milestones, behaviors, and any concerns observed by parents or caregivers.
  2. Observation and Interaction: The professional will observe the individual's social interactions, communication skills, and behavior patterns in various settings, such as at home, school, or during therapy sessions.
  3. Standardized Tests: The individual may undergo standardized tests to assess their cognitive abilities, language skills, adaptive functioning, and other relevant areas.
  4. Parent and Caregiver Interviews: The professional will interview parents or caregivers to gain insight into the individual's behavior, development, and any concerns they may have.
  5. Collaboration with Other Professionals: Depending on the specific needs of the individual, the evaluating professional may collaborate with other specialists, such as speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, or psychologists, to gather more comprehensive information.

The evaluation and assessment process aims to gather a comprehensive understanding of the individual's strengths, challenges, and symptoms. It helps professionals make an accurate diagnosis and develop tailored treatment plans.

By seeking professional help, understanding the diagnostic criteria, and going through the evaluation and assessment process, you can gain a clearer understanding of pervasive developmental disorder and take the necessary steps toward providing appropriate support and interventions for your child or loved one.

Managing Pervasive Developmental Disorder Symptoms

When it comes to managing symptoms of pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), a holistic approach that integrates various therapies, interventions, and supportive strategies is often recommended. By combining these different approaches, individuals with PDD can enhance their skills, improve their quality of life, and reach their full potential. Here are some key strategies for managing PDD symptoms:

Therapies and Interventions

Therapies and interventions play a crucial role in supporting individuals with PDD. These interventions are tailored to target specific areas of development and address challenges associated with PDD symptoms. Some commonly used therapies and interventions include:

Therapy/Intervention Description
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) ABA is a widely recognized and evidence-based therapeutic approach that focuses on improving specific behaviors and teaching new skills. It utilizes positive reinforcement techniques to encourage desired behaviors and reduce challenging ones.
Speech and Language Therapy This therapy focuses on developing communication skills, including speech production, language comprehension, and social communication. It helps individuals with PDD improve their ability to express themselves, understand others, and engage in meaningful interactions.
Occupational Therapy Occupational therapy aims to address difficulties with fine motor skills, sensory processing, and daily living activities. It helps individuals develop independence, improve coordination, and enhance sensory integration.
Social Skills Training Social skills training focuses on improving social interaction, communication, and social-emotional understanding. It helps individuals with PDD develop appropriate social skills, navigate social situations, and build meaningful relationships.

Supportive Strategies for Daily Life

In addition to formal therapies and interventions, incorporating supportive strategies into daily life can greatly benefit individuals with PDD. These strategies are designed to create a structured and supportive environment that promotes success and minimizes anxiety. Some supportive strategies include:

  • Establishing routines and visual schedules to provide predictability and reduce stress.
  • Breaking tasks into smaller, manageable steps to facilitate learning and task completion.
  • Using visual supports, such as visual cues and social stories, to enhance understanding and communication.
  • Implementing positive behavior support strategies, such as reinforcement systems and behavior plans, to encourage appropriate behaviors and reduce challenging ones.
  • Providing clear and consistent expectations, along with praise and encouragement, to foster self-esteem and motivation.

Creating a Supportive Environment

Creating a supportive environment is essential for individuals with PDD. This involves ensuring that physical and social environments are conducive to their needs and preferences. Some key considerations include:

  • Minimizing sensory overload by creating quiet spaces, reducing visual distractions, and using sensory-friendly materials.
  • Providing accommodations and modifications in educational settings to support learning and participation.
  • Encouraging inclusive and accepting social environments that promote understanding, empathy, and peer support.
  • Collaborating with teachers, therapists, and other professionals to develop individualized education plans and support strategies.

By implementing these strategies and seeking guidance from professionals, parents and caregivers can help individuals with PDD navigate their daily lives more effectively. It's important to remember that each individual with PDD is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. Therefore, a personalized and flexible approach is key to effectively managing PDD symptoms and supporting overall growth and development.


Pervasive Developmental Disorder is a group of neurological disorders that affect the development of social and communication skills. Children with PDD have difficulty interacting and communicating with others, which can lead to social isolation and anxiety.

If you suspect that your child may have PDD, it is important to seek an evaluation from a qualified healthcare professional. Early intervention and treatment can help improve outcomes for children with PDD.