The term pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs) refers to a group of developmental conditions that involve delayed or impaired communication and social skills, behaviors, and cognitive skills (learning).
Because autism is the best-known of the PDDs, the disorders also are known as autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).
PDDs include Asperger syndrome and two less common conditions, childhood disintegrative disorder and Rett syndrome. PDDs usually are diagnosed during infancy, toddlerhood, or early childhood.
Signs and Symptoms
Signs of ASDs are usually recognizable before a child is 3 years old. However, symptoms can range from severe to so subtle that they seem to be normal aspects of childhood development. For that reason, it can take a few years for an ASD to be fully identified. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends pediatricians look for early signs that suggest the possibility of autism at every visit and formally screen for autism at 18 months and 24 months, and any other time there is a concern.
Early signs can include:
- trouble interacting, playing with, or relating to others
- avoiding eye contact; not looking at people
- not pointing to objects to call attention to them
- unusual movements, such as hand flapping, spinning, or tapping
- delays in developmental milestones or loss of milestones already achieved
- playing with the same toy in a way that seems odd or repetitive
- not using or understanding language
- not exploring surroundings with curiosity or interest
Kids who show a pattern of these behaviors should be evaluated by a doctor. No blood tests or brain tests (such as MRIs) can diagnose ASDs, although such tests might be done to check for other conditions that could cause the symptoms.
A child with a suspected ASD should be evaluated by a doctor with expertise in the disorders, such as a pediatric neurologist, developmental pediatrician, pediatric psychiatrist, or pediatric psychologist. Parent questionnaires, educational and cognitive assessments, language assessments, or play and behavior assessments might be used to help diagnose autism.