Pervasive Developmental Disorders

PDD, Autism and Asperger’s.

What is PDD?

PDD or pervasive developmental disorder is a behavioral disorder of speech, communication, social interaction, and repetitive type compulsive behavior. Autism is a form of PDD. There are five types of PDD’s. The most commonly encountered are PDD NOS (pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified), childhood Autism, and Asperger’s Syndrome. All these “different” conditions have common diagnostic and physiologic features but differ slightly by the specific diagnostic criteria.

What is Autism?

Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of lifeand is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain, impacting development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Both children and adults with Autism typically show difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities.

Prevalence of Autism

Autism is the most common of the Pervasive Developmental Disorders, affecting an estimated 1 in 150 births (Centers for Disease Control Prevention, 2007). Roughly translated, this means as many as 1.5 million Americans today are believed to have some form of Autism. And this number is on the rise.

Based on statistics from the U.S. Department of Education and other governmental agencies, Autism is growing at a startling rate of 10-17 percent per year. Autism knows no racial, ethnic, or social boundaries; family income levels; lifestyle choices; or educational levels, and can affect any family and any child. And although the overall incidence of Autism is consistent around the globe, it is four times more prevalent in boys than in girls.

Children with Autism usually have a combination of the following symptoms:

  • Lack of or delay in spoken language
  • Repetitive use of language and/or motor mannerisms (e.g., hand-flapping, twirling objects)
  • Little or no eye contact
  • Lack of interest in peer relationships
  • Lack of spontaneous or make-believe play
  • Persistent fixation on parts of objects

What is Asperger’s Syndrome?

What distinguishes Asperger’s Syndrome from Autism is the severity of the symptoms and the absence of language delays. Children with Asperger’s may be only mildly affected and frequently have good language and cognitive skills. To the untrained observer, a child with Asperger’s may seem just like a normal child behaving differently. They may be socially awkward, not understanding of conventional social rules, or show a lack of empathy. They may make limited eye contact, seem to be unengaged in a conversation, and not understand the use of gestures. Many individuals who fall within the category of having Asperger’s Syndrome are often misdiagnosed with ADD, ADHD, Learning Disabilities, Bi-polar, Oppositional Defiant and Emotional Disorders.

One of the major differences between Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism is that, by definition, there is no speech delay in Asperger’s. In fact, children with Asperger’s frequently have good language skills; they simply use language in different ways. Speech patterns may be unusual, lack inflection, or have a rhythmic nature or it may be formal, but too loud or high pitched. Children with Asperger’s may not understand the subtleties of language, such as irony and humor, or they may not recognize the give-and-take nature of a conversation.

Another distinction between Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism concerns cognitive ability. While some individuals with Autism experience mental retardation, by definition a person with Asperger’s cannot possess a “clinically significant” cognitive delay, and most possess average to above-average intelligence.

Children with Autism are frequently seen as aloof and uninterested in others. This is not the case with Asperger’s Disorder. Individuals with Asperger’s Disorder usually want to fit in and have interaction with others; they simply don’t know how to do it.

Children with AS usually have a combination of the following symptoms:

  • Above average memory skills
  • Average or above average vocabulary skills
  • Awkward, repetitive gestures, body postures or facial expressions
  • Below average handwriting
  • Difficulty understanding their feelings
  • Extreme difficulty with peer relationships and social situations
  • Inability to be empathetic
  • Inability to read non-verbal social cues and other people’s feelings
  • Inability to sense other people’s needs for personal space
  • Late development of motor skills or a lack of physical coordination
  • Obsessive interest in one topic which they may talk about excessively
  • Strong attachment to routine
  • Strong aversion to change or spontaneity
  • Unusual sensitivity to sound, light, or touch
  • Unusual speech patterns with regard to tone, pitch, or accents

Prevalence of Asperger’s Syndrome

Because Asperger’s syndrome has been diagnosed in the United States only recently, it is unclear how many people have the disorder. Some studies indicate that 2 out of every 10,000 children have AS in the United States. Other studies indicate that as many as 3-4 of every 1000 children have this condition. Asperger’s syndrome affects boys more often than girls, and siblings of children with the disorder are at increased risk.

Autism Society of America Chapters

For parents looking for more support, ASA chapters are a great resource. ASA has chapters in nearly every state reaching out to individuals with autism and their families with information, support, and encouragement.

ASA is the home of the Autism Awareness Puzzle Ribbon, one of the most recognizable cause-related symbols, and founded National Autism Awareness Month, which helps focus attention on autism in April of every year.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.


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