Pervasive Developmental Disorder Signs & Symptoms

What is PDD?

Understanding Pervasive Developmental Disorder

Pervasive Developmental Disorders, also referred to as PDDs, are a group of disorders that are characterized by developmental delays in multiple different areas of basic functioning, including socialization and communication. Children and adolescents with a pervasive developmental disorder may have problems using and understanding language, difficulties relating to other people and the world around them, and difficulties with changes in daily routines. Furthermore, these young people tend to engage in unusual play with toys or other objects and will often display repetitive body movements or behavior patterns.

The typical age of onset for pervasive developmental disorders is before 3 years old; some parents my note symptoms in their children as early as infancy. Children with PDDs will vary in abilities, intelligence, and behaviors. For example, while one child is unable to speak at all another with PDD will have some relatively normal language development.

While there is no cure for this group of disorders, early intervention, which includes specialized education programs and support services, can greatly improve the outcome of a child with pervasive developmental disorder.


Statistics on Pervasive Developmental Disorder

It is estimated that out of every 10,000 births, 5 to 15 of those children have a pervasive developmental disorder. Furthermore, pervasive developmental disorders tend to be more prevalent among males, with the exception of Rett’s syndrome, which almost always occurs in girls.

Causes and Risks

Causes and Risk Factors for Pervasive Developmental Disorder

The causes for the onset of pervasive developmental disorders are not fully understood, but many researchers believe that a number of different factors play a role in their development. Below are some of the factors that may lead to the development of PDDs:

Genetic:  There are many different genes that have been identified as contributing to this group of disorders. For example, Rett’s syndrome is thought to be caused by the presence of a faulty gene which has been passed down from one’s parents. Furthermore, autism spectrum disorder tends to run in families, which suggests a genetic component.

Environment: Researchers are looking into a number of environmental factors, including parental age, family history of specific medical conditions, and other demographic factors that are believed to contribute to the development of pervasive developmental disorders. Additionally, there are a number of prenatal risk factors, such as illness or the use of psychoactive drugs by the mother, that place a child at an increased risk for the development of PDDs.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of pervasive developmental disorders
  • Having parents of advanced age
  • Complications during birth
  • Exposure to toxins or illnesses while in utero
  • Severe infections that affect the brain

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Pervasive Developmental Disorder

The signs and symptoms of pervasive developmental disorder are going to be different for each child and can appear at various stages in a child’s development. However, there are some common symptoms that may indicate a child may be struggling with this disorder. Some of these symptoms include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Can be unresponsive
  • Avoids eye contact
  • Are socially withdrawn
  • Has trouble relating to others
  • Frequent temper tantrums
  • Repetitive movements
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Aggressive behaviors
  • Engages in unusual play
  • May talk for long periods of time about a particular topic
  • Is unable to stray from set routine

Physical symptoms:

  • Sleep problems
  • Injuries as a result of self-harm
  • Weak muscle tone
  • Slowed head growth

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Difficulties using and understanding language
  • Trouble interpreting facial expressions
  • Difficulty relating to others
  • Unusual responses to sensory stimuli

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Fearfulness
  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness


Effects of Pervasive Developmental Disorder

The long-term effects of pervasive developmental disorders are going to depend upon the severity of the symptoms as well as how soon a child or adolescent begins treatment. Many of the symptoms of this group of disorders last a life-time, however, with proper treatment, a young person’s functioning can be improved. Some of the possible long-term effects may include:

  • Social isolation
  • Requiring assistance for tasks of daily living
  • Difficulties communicating with others
  • Academic difficulties
  • Sleep and eating difficulties
  • Having a hard time establishing independence
  • Difficulties adapting to change
  • Trouble maintaining employment


Pervasive Developmental Disorder and Co-Occurring Disorders

PDD is often associated with the presence of another mental health disorder or other challenges. Some of the most common conditions that occur alongside pervasive developmental disorders include:

  • Intellectual disability
  • Structural language disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Learning disorders

The instructors for my son were kind and intelligent and really helped our whole family grow and learn. We understand his PDD more and relate to him better than we used to.

– Anonymous Patient