What Is Pervasive Developmental Disorder?

Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a group of neurodevelopmental disorders that affect a person's ability to communicate, socialize, and behave appropriately.

reuben kesherim
Ruben Kesherim
November 10, 2023

What Is Pervasive Developmental Disorder?

Understanding Pervasive Developmental Disorder

To gain a comprehensive understanding of pervasive developmental disorder, it is important to explore its definition and the different types that fall under this umbrella term.

What is Pervasive Developmental Disorder?

Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) refers to a group of neurodevelopmental conditions that affect an individual's social communication skills, behavior, and overall development. PDD is characterized by difficulties in social interaction, communication, and restricted or repetitive patterns of behavior. It is commonly diagnosed in early childhood and can have a lifelong impact.

PDD is often used as an umbrella term that encompasses several specific conditions, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Asperger's syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD), and Rett syndrome. Each of these conditions has its own unique features and characteristics.

Different Types of Pervasive Developmental Disorder

Within the broader category of pervasive developmental disorder, there are specific types that have distinct diagnostic criteria and characteristics. These types include:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): ASD is characterized by a wide range of symptoms and can vary significantly in severity. Individuals with ASD may experience challenges in social interaction, communication, and exhibit repetitive behaviors or restricted interests.
  • Asperger's Syndrome: Asperger's syndrome is characterized by difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, as well as restrictive and repetitive patterns of behavior. However, individuals with Asperger's syndrome typically have average or above-average intelligence and do not experience delays in language development.
  • Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD): CDD is a rare condition in which a child experiences a significant loss of previously acquired social, communication, and cognitive skills. This loss usually occurs between the ages of 2 and 4 years, resulting in a regression of abilities.
  • Rett Syndrome: Rett syndrome primarily affects females and is characterized by a loss of purposeful hand skills, slowed growth, breathing abnormalities, and cognitive impairments. Rett syndrome is caused by a specific genetic mutation.

Understanding the definition of pervasive developmental disorder and the different types that fall under this category is essential for recognizing the unique challenges and characteristics associated with these conditions.

three children holding hands standing on grasses

Symptoms and Characteristics

To better understand pervasive developmental disorder, it is important to familiarize ourselves with its core symptoms and common characteristics. By recognizing these signs, individuals and their loved ones can seek appropriate support and interventions.

Core Symptoms of Pervasive Developmental Disorder

Pervasive developmental disorder is characterized by a range of symptoms that affect various aspects of an individual's development and functioning. These core symptoms may include:

  1. Impaired Social Interaction: Individuals with pervasive developmental disorder often struggle with social interactions. They may have difficulty understanding and responding to social cues, maintaining eye contact, and engaging in reciprocal conversations.
  2. Communication Challenges: Communication difficulties are a hallmark of pervasive developmental disorder. Individuals may have delayed speech development, struggle with expressive language, and have difficulties understanding and using nonverbal communication, such as gestures and facial expressions.
  3. Restricted and Repetitive Behaviors: Pervasive developmental disorder is also marked by repetitive behaviors and restricted interests. Individuals may engage in repetitive movements, have intense focus on specific topics or objects, and show resistance to changes in routines.
  4. Sensory Sensitivities: Many individuals with pervasive developmental disorder have heightened sensory sensitivities. They may be overly sensitive or underreactive to sensory stimuli, such as sounds, textures, or lights.

Common Characteristics of Pervasive Developmental Disorder

In addition to the core symptoms mentioned above, there are several common characteristics associated with pervasive developmental disorder. These characteristics may vary in intensity and presentation among individuals, but they often include:

  1. Delayed Developmental Milestones: Children with pervasive developmental disorder may experience delays in reaching developmental milestones, such as sitting, crawling, walking, and talking.
  2. Difficulty with Transitions: Individuals with pervasive developmental disorder may struggle with transitions and changes in routine. They may require predictability and structure in their daily lives to feel more comfortable and secure.
  3. Executive Functioning Challenges: Executive functioning skills, such as planning, organizing, and problem-solving, can be impaired in individuals with pervasive developmental disorder. This can affect their ability to manage tasks, prioritize activities, and adapt to new situations.
  4. Co-Occurring Conditions: Pervasive developmental disorder often co-occurs with other conditions, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and intellectual disabilities. These additional challenges can further impact an individual's daily functioning and require comprehensive support.

Understanding the symptoms and characteristics of pervasive developmental disorder is crucial for early identification and intervention. If you suspect that you or someone you know may have pervasive developmental disorder, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional for a comprehensive evaluation and guidance.

Diagnosing Pervasive Developmental Disorder

To properly diagnose Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), a comprehensive assessment and evaluation process is conducted. This helps to determine if an individual meets the diagnostic criteria for PDD and to rule out other possible causes for the observed symptoms.

Diagnostic Criteria for Pervasive Developmental Disorder

The diagnostic criteria for Pervasive Developmental Disorder are outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is widely used by healthcare professionals. According to the DSM-5, the following criteria must be met for a diagnosis of PDD:

  1. Persistent deficits in social communication and interaction: Individuals with PDD may have difficulties with social interactions, such as understanding nonverbal cues, maintaining eye contact, or engaging in reciprocal conversation.
  2. Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities: This includes engaging in repetitive movements or behaviors, having narrow interests, or displaying inflexible routines or rituals.
  3. Symptoms present in early childhood: PDD symptoms typically emerge in early childhood, although they may not become fully apparent until later in development.
  4. Symptoms causing significant impairment: The symptoms of PDD must result in significant impairments in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

It is important to note that the specific diagnostic criteria and classification of PDD may vary across different editions of the DSM. However, the DSM-5 provides a comprehensive framework for diagnosing PDD.

Assessment and Evaluation Process

The assessment and evaluation process for PDD involves multiple professionals, such as psychologists, psychiatrists, and developmental specialists. The process typically includes the following steps:

  1. Clinical Interviews: The healthcare professional will conduct thorough interviews with the individual and their caregivers to gather information about developmental history, behavioral patterns, and symptoms.
  2. Observations: The professional may observe the individual in various settings, such as home, school, or therapy sessions, to assess their social interactions, communication skills, and behavioral patterns.
  3. Standardized Assessments: Standardized tests and assessments may be administered to evaluate cognitive abilities, language skills, adaptive functioning, and social-emotional development. These assessments provide valuable information to aid in the diagnosis of PDD.
  4. Collateral Information: The healthcare professional may also seek information from other sources, such as teachers or other professionals involved in the individual's care, to gain a comprehensive understanding of their functioning across different contexts.

By combining information from various sources, the healthcare professional can make an accurate diagnosis of Pervasive Developmental Disorder. It is important to note that diagnosing PDD requires specialized expertise and should be done by qualified professionals. If you suspect that you or someone you know may have PDD, it is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional who specializes in developmental disorders.

Understanding the diagnostic criteria and assessment process for Pervasive Developmental Disorder is crucial in order to provide appropriate support and interventions for individuals with this condition.

Treatment and Support

When it comes to treating and supporting individuals with pervasive developmental disorder, a comprehensive approach is often necessary. This section will explore therapeutic approaches and support services available for individuals with this condition.

Therapeutic Approaches for Pervasive Developmental Disorder

Therapeutic interventions play a crucial role in assisting individuals with pervasive developmental disorder in reaching their full potential. Here are some commonly used therapeutic approaches:

  1. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA): ABA is a widely recognized and evidence-based treatment approach for individuals with pervasive developmental disorder. It focuses on identifying and modifying behaviors through systematic analysis and reinforcement techniques. ABA can help individuals acquire new skills, reduce problematic behaviors, and improve social interactions.
  2. Speech-Language Therapy: Many individuals with pervasive developmental disorder experience difficulties in communication. Speech-language therapy aims to enhance language development, improve articulation, and build social communication skills. This therapy can also help individuals develop alternative communication methods, such as sign language or augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices.
  3. Occupational Therapy: Occupational therapy focuses on developing skills necessary for daily living, such as self-care, fine motor skills, and sensory integration. Individuals with pervasive developmental disorder often have sensory sensitivities or difficulties with coordination, and occupational therapy can address these challenges.
  4. Social Skills Training: Social skills training aims to improve social interactions, enhance communication abilities, and develop appropriate social behaviors. This training often takes place in group settings, providing individuals with opportunities to practice social skills in real-life scenarios.

It's important to note that the effectiveness of different therapeutic approaches may vary from person to person. A multidisciplinary team, including professionals from various fields, works together to design individualized treatment plans that cater to the unique needs of each individual.

Support Services for Individuals with Pervasive Developmental Disorder

In addition to therapeutic approaches, there are various support services available to individuals with pervasive developmental disorder and their families. These services aim to provide assistance and resources to help individuals thrive in their daily lives. Some common support services include:

  1. Special Education Programs: Special education programs are designed to provide tailored educational strategies and accommodations for individuals with pervasive developmental disorder. These programs focus on promoting learning and development while addressing individual needs.
  2. Behavioral Support Plans: Behavioral support plans outline strategies to manage challenging behaviors and promote positive behaviors. These plans are developed based on the individual's specific needs, and they often involve collaboration between educators, therapists, and caregivers.
  3. Parent Training and Support Groups: Parent training programs and support groups offer guidance, education, and emotional support to parents and caregivers of individuals with pervasive developmental disorder. These programs provide valuable resources, strategies, and a network of individuals experiencing similar challenges.
  4. Community Resources: Local community resources, such as advocacy organizations and support networks, can provide valuable information, workshops, and peer support for individuals with pervasive developmental disorder and their families.

By combining therapeutic approaches with support services, individuals with pervasive developmental disorder can receive the necessary support to navigate their unique challenges and maximize their potential. It's important to consult with professionals and explore available resources to create a comprehensive treatment and support plan tailored to the individual's specific needs.

Living with Pervasive Developmental Disorder

Living with Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) can present unique challenges, but with the right strategies and support, individuals can lead fulfilling lives. Here, we will explore some effective strategies for coping and managing symptoms of PDD, as well as the importance of building a supportive environment.

Strategies for Coping and Managing Symptoms

Individuals with PDD can benefit from implementing various strategies to cope with their symptoms and improve their quality of life. Some strategies that can be helpful include:

  1. Establishing Routine: Creating a structured daily routine can provide a sense of stability and predictability, which can be especially beneficial for individuals with PDD. Having a consistent schedule helps reduce anxiety and provides a framework for managing daily activities.
  2. Utilizing Visual Aids: Visual aids, such as schedules, charts, or visual reminders, can assist individuals with PDD in understanding and following routines. Visual supports can enhance communication skills, promote independence, and reduce confusion or frustration.
  3. Developing Social Skills: Social skills training and social stories can be valuable tools for individuals with PDD to navigate social interactions. Learning appropriate social cues, communication strategies, and problem-solving skills can improve social relationships and enhance overall well-being.
  4. Managing Sensory Sensitivities: Individuals with PDD may experience sensory sensitivities, such as hypersensitivity to light, sound, or touch. Identifying and managing sensory triggers can help reduce discomfort and promote a more comfortable environment.
  5. Seeking Professional Support: Working with a team of professionals, such as therapists, educators, and medical practitioners, can provide valuable guidance and support for individuals with PDD. These professionals can offer specialized interventions, therapies, and strategies tailored to the individual's unique needs.

Building a Supportive Environment

Creating a supportive environment is crucial for individuals with PDD to thrive. Here are some key aspects to consider when building a supportive environment:

  1. Education and Awareness: Educating oneself and others about PDD can foster understanding and empathy. It is important to dispel misconceptions and promote awareness to create an inclusive environment for individuals with PDD.
  2. Effective Communication: Clear and consistent communication is essential when interacting with individuals with PDD. Using simple and concrete language, providing visual supports, and allowing sufficient processing time can facilitate effective communication and understanding.
  3. Encouraging Independence: Supporting independence helps individuals with PDD develop essential life skills. Encouraging and providing opportunities for independent decision-making, self-care, and problem-solving can promote autonomy and self-confidence.
  4. Creating a Safe Space: Establishing a safe and predictable physical environment can alleviate anxiety and sensory overload for individuals with PDD. Minimizing clutter, providing designated quiet spaces, and ensuring safety measures are in place can contribute to a sense of security.
  5. Promoting Inclusion: Encouraging social interaction and fostering an inclusive community is vital. Promoting acceptance, understanding, and inclusivity can help individuals with PDD feel valued and supported.

By implementing effective coping strategies and building a supportive environment, individuals with PDD can navigate the challenges associated with the disorder and lead fulfilling lives.


In conclusion, Pervasive Developmental Disorder is a complex disorder that affects a person's ability to communicate, socialize, and behave appropriately. While there is no cure for PDD, early diagnosis and intervention can help improve outcomes and reduce symptoms. If you suspect that your child may have PDD, it is important to speak with a qualified healthcare provider to get a proper diagnosis and create a treatment plan.