Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PPD) and “Not Otherwise Specified” (PDD-NOS) are just two of several previously separate subtypes of autism that have now been officially included in the single diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This is a pronounced change since the 2013 updated publication of DSM-5. Though PPD and PPD-NOS have their own distinct symptoms and therapeutic approaches that separate them from many other subtypes of autism spectrum disorder.

PDD & Other Subtypes of ASD

The DSM-5 is an acronym for the fifth edition of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.” It serves as an updated guide for clinicians in the diagnosis of mental health conditions. Originally published by the American Psychiatric Association, it is periodically updated with new science-backed research as it emerges in the mental healthcare industry. At this time the DSM-5 serves as the most current iteration of the manual.

Other common subtypes of Autism Spectrum Disorder that are recognized by the DSM-5 include:

  • Asperger’s Syndrome
  • Childhood Disintegrative Disorder
  • Rett’s Syndrome

It’s also worth noting that there are other types of PDD that might also fall under the DSM-5’s definition of autism spectrum disorder. This includes PDD-NOS which was included as part of a revision in the DSM-4 that was published in 2000. Psychologists and psychiatrists often used pervasive developmental disorder and autism spectrum disorder interchangeably.

How Is Pervasive Development Disorder Diagnosed?

PPD and PDD-NOS are often diagnosed in children, but new research has also made it possible for diagnosis in adults, who might also show impairment in social skills. Yet did not meet the full criteria for an autistic disorder diagnosis earlier in life. In adult cases, the diagnostic process typically happened either because the symptoms appeared at an older age or because the individual was diagnosed later in life.

You should also note that the National Institute of Neurological Disorders & Stroke has also adopted a definition of PDD-NOS as a group of disorders characterized by delays in the development of socialization and communication skills. This can sometimes be related to traumatic brain injuries or other neurological conditions that lead to problems using and understanding language, difficulty relating to people, unusual play with toys, problems with changes in routine, and repetitive movements or behavior.

In either case, a trained clinician such as an ABA therapist or a BCBA specialist needs to perform an extensive evaluation. This will help identify any existing symptoms of ASD, PPD, or PPD-NOS as an early step in developing an effective treatment plan.

The diagnostic process often involves careful observations of the child’s behavior. Be sure to let them know about any family history, health examinations, or other parenting perspectives you’ve observed. This collection of information can help pediatricians identify children at risk for ASD, and can help with early diagnosis.

What Are The Symptoms Of Pervasive Development Disorder?

Now that PPD, PDD-NOS, and other autism categories have been categorized and properly consolidated, the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder can now be broken down into two categories for individuals who show deficits in communication and interaction as well as those who demonstrate restricted behaviors or repetitive movements.

A lot of common social communication and interaction symptoms include things like:

  • Difficulty initiating a conversation
  • Troubles with maintaining a conversation
  • Struggling to maintain good eye contact
  • Challenges with expressing feelings
  • Difficulty understanding or explaining emotions
  • Difficulty understanding the feelings of others
  • Struggling to register nonverbal cues,
  • Delayed response to their own name

Restrictive behaviors or movements include things such as:

  • Frequently engaging in repetitive behaviors
  • Maintaining a specific routine
  • Becoming upset when they experience seemingly minor changes
  • Having a greater or lesser sensitivity to sensory stimulation
  • Focused interest in a specific object or a narrow topics
  • Developing specific food preferences and aversion to change
  • The Importance of Routine Developmental Screenings

The DSM-5 notes that children and young adults who received a diagnosis for ASD or PPD before the 2013 publication might need to be reevaluated for an updated diagnosis. This is especially important for children who already should be receiving regular developmental screenings as part of their routine check-ups.

The Importance of Identifying ASD Early

The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends that all children be screened for possible signs or symptoms of autism spectrum disorder as part of their 18- and 24-month well-child exams. This is in addition to any regular developmental screenings children are given around the age of three, before starting pre-school or other formal early childhood education.

A lot of pediatric physicians start screening babies for signs of developmental or communication challenges associated with ASD in their earliest well-baby check-ups. This includes observing how the baby interacts with their parents.

When caught early, ASD and PPD treatment options are more diverse. It allows ABA therapists and other clinicians to intersect potentially negative behaviors and redirect them toward more positive ones before the negative behavior patterns become overly ingrained.

Early detection of ASD, PPD, and other subtypes of autism spectrum disorder makes it easier for clinicians to develop a customized treatment plan that will better help the child or young adult to meet important development milestones at more age-appropriate times.

Important Signals to Watch Out For

There are several signals and potential symptoms of ASD and PPD that might manifest during interactions with parents and other close family members. This can include but is not limited to:

  • A baby who does try to regain the parent’s attention when distracted
  • The baby can’t point or wave
  • An older baby fails to respond to their own name

While these might simply be signs of natural developmental delay, they can also be early symptoms of ASD or a subtype like PPD starting to manifest. If you have seen any of these behaviors recurring in your child, be sure to let your pediatrician know so they can consider additional diagnostics.

There is no “Cure” for autism spectrum disorder and subtypes like PPD or PPD-NOS, early detection greatly improves treatment options. Many times ASD can be diagnosed as early as age two and can help minimize any future skill regression.