Pervasive Development Disorders

Pervasive Development Disorders

The term Pervasive Developmental Disorders was first used in the 1980’s to describe a class of disorders. This class of disorders has in common the following characteristics: impairments in social interaction, imaginative activity, verbal and nonverbal communication skills, and a limited number of interests and activities that tend to be repetitive.

The manual used by physicians and mental health professionals as a guide to diagnosing disorders is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The DSM was last revised in 1994.

In this latest revision, known as the DSM-IV, five disorders are identified under the category of Pervasive Developmental Disorders:

  • Autistic Disorder
  • Rett’s Disorder
  • Childhood Disintegrative Disorder
  • Asperger’s Disorder
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, or PDDNOS

(Editor’s note in 2003: The current version of the DSM is the DSM-IV-TR, published in 2000. The categorization of PDD that is described in this Briefing Paper has not changed.)

Many of the questions parents and education professionals ask NICHCY have to do with children who have been diagnosed with “PDD.” Doctors are divided on the use of the term PDD. Many professionals use the term PDD as a short way of saying PDDNOS.

Some doctors, however, are hesitant to diagnose very young children with a specific type of PDD, such as Autistic Disorder, and therefore, only use the general category label of PDD. This approach contributes to the confusion about the term, because the term PDD actually refers to a category of disorders and is not a diagnostic label. The appropriate diagnostic label to be used is PDDNOS–Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified–not PDD (the umbrella category under which PDDNOS is found).


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