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What Is Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDDNOS) begins in childhood and bears considerable similarity to other conditions like autism. A disease receives this classification if it doesn’t fully meet the criteria for autistic disorder, Asperger’s syndrome or other conditions that are classed as pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs). In most of the PDDs, children have strongly impaired social skills, but the degree of impairment and the precise features of PDDNOS in any child are varied. This means treatment and outcome are also diverse.

In classification manuals like the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manuals®, the matter of pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified isn’t given much description. Many experts in developmental disorders consider this unfortunate because a PDDNOS diagnosis encompasses a significant range in how the disorder may appear. For example, it might have all the features of autism, but be diagnosed after the required age of onset, which is three years or younger, in which case it may be informally called atypical autism.

Alternately, a child with pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified may only have some of the impairments that are shared with autism. Often, verbal and/or nonverbal communication are below normal levels, which may interfere with a child’s ability to socially interact with parents or peers. Features of autistic disorder like stereotyping or copying others' language or actions might be present, too. Unlike autistic kids, many children with PDDNOS do have some language skills.

In making an official diagnosis of pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified, all other PDDs must first be ruled out. Schizotypal and avoidant personality disorders must not be able to better account for the collection of symptoms. Doctors must also make certain that a suspected case of PDDNOS is not more accurately diagnosed as schizophrenia, which can seriously impair communication abilities, too.

Any type of treatment undertaken for pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified is tied to symptoms. Some communication issues are handled well with adaptive technologies, like the use of computers. Other therapies that might be of help include various behavioral therapies or play therapy. It’s hard to say whether a child with PDDNOS will require special classrooms or might be capable of participating in mainstreamed environments.

Given the diversity of symptoms that might be part of pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified, it’s also difficult to predict the long-term outlook for children with this diagnosis. Some children will respond well to treatment, and may live quite normal lives as adults. Others may have ongoing troubles with socializing and communication that require additional support. Generally, early recognition and intervention for PDDNOS are associated with greater gains in functionality in childhood and adulthood.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGEEK contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

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Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGEEK contributor, Tricia...
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