Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder (page 3)
Table of Contents
Ryan is a healthy, active two-year-old, but his parents are concerned because he doesn’t seem to be doing the same things that his older sister did at this age. He’s not really talking, yet; although sometimes, he repeats, over and over, words that he hears others say. He doesn’t use words to communicate, though. It seems he just enjoys the sounds of them. Ryan spends a lot of time playing by himself. He has a few favorite toys, mostly cars, or anything with wheels on it! And sometimes, he spins himself around as fast as he does the wheels on his cars. Ryan’s parents are really concerned, as he’s started throwing a tantrum whenever his routine has the smallest change. More and more, his parents feel stressed, not knowing what might trigger Ryan’s next upset.
Often, it seems Ryan doesn’t notice or care if his family or anyone else is around. His parents just don’t know how to reach their little boy, who seems so rigid and far too set in his ways for his tender young age. After talking with their family doctor, Ryan’s parents call the Early Intervention office in their community and make an appointment to have Ryan evaluated.
When the time comes, Ryan is seen by several professionals who play with him, watch him, and ask his parents a lot of questions. When they’re all done, Ryan is diagnosed with a form of autism. As painful as this is for his parents to learn, the early intervention staff try to encourage them. By getting an early diagnosis and beginning treatment, Ryan has the best chance to grow and develop. Of course, there’s a long road ahead, but his parents take comfort in knowing that they aren’t alone and they’re getting Ryan the help he needs.
Autism/Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) is a neurological disorder that affects a child’s ability to communicate, understand language, play, and relate to others. PDD represents a distinct category of developmental disabilities that share many of the same characteristics.
The different diagnostic terms that fall within the broad meaning of PDD, include:
• Autistic Disorder,
Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, and
Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS).
While there are subtle differences and degrees of severity among these conditions, treatment and educational needs can be very similar for all of them.
In the diagnostic manual used to classify mental disorders, the DSM-IV-TR (American Psychiatric Association, 2000), “Autistic Disorder” is listed under the heading of “Pervasive Developmental Disorders.” A diagnosis of autistic disorder is made when an individual displays 6 or more of 12 symptoms across three major areas: (a) social interaction, (b) communication, and (c) behavior. When children display similar behaviors but do not meet the specific criteria for autistic disorder (or the other disorders listed above), they may receive a diagnosis of Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, or PDD-NOS.
Autism is one of the disabilities specifically defined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal legislation under which infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities receive early intervention, special education and related services. IDEA defines the disorder as “a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age 3, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. Other characteristics often associated with autism are engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences.” [See 34 Code of Federal Regulations §300.8(c)(1).]
Information from the National Institute of Mental Health and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that between 2 to 6 per 1,000 children (from 1 in 500 to 1 in 150) have some form of autism/PDD. These disorders are four times more common in boys than in girls, although Rett’s Disorder has only been reported and diagnosed in girls.
The causes of autism or PDD are unknown. Currently, researchers are investigating areas such as brain development, structure, genetic factors and biochemical imbalance in the brain as possible causes. These disorders are not caused by psychological factors.
Some or all of the following characteristics may be observed in mild to severe forms:
- Communication problems (e.g., using and understanding language)
- Difficulty relating to people, objects, and events
- Unusual play with toys and other objects
- Difficulty with changes in routine or familiar surroundings
- Repetitive body movements or behavior patterns
Children with autism or PDD vary widely in abilities, intelligence, and behaviors. Some children do not speak; others have language that often includes repeated phrases or conversations. Children with more advanced language skills tend to use a small range of topics and have difficulty with abstract concepts. Repetitive play skills, a limited range of interests, and impaired social skills are generally evident as well. Unusual responses to sensory information—for example, loud noises, lights, certain textures of food or fabrics—are also common.
Thanks to federal legislation—the Children’s Health Act of 2000 and the Combating Autism Act of 2006—nearly $1 billion over the next five years (2007-2012) has been authorized to combat autism through research, screening, early detection, and early intervention. The National Institutes of Health and the CDC are the lead entities conducting and coordinating multiple research activities. On the education front, the PDA Center at the University of Washington has several sites around the country that provide training and support to schools and families for students with autism spectrum disorders. Research on instructional interventions for children with a broad range of needs is an ongoing national endeavor. Check NICHCY’s Research to Practice database and OSEP’s discretionary projects directories on our web site to learn more. Additional information can also be found on the web sites included in the list of Organizations at the end of this publication.
Reprinted with the permission of the National Dissemination Center.
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- Social Cognitive Theory
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