Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder: Fact Sheet
Note: This information was published by the National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities (NICHCY) as Fact Sheet Number 1 (FS1) in April 2007. [http://nichcy.org/pubs/factshe/fs1txt.htm]
What is Autism/PDD?
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:
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).]
How Common is Autism / PDD?
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.
Some or all of the following characteristics may be observed
in mild to severe forms:
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.
Early diagnosis and intervention are very important for
children with autism/PDD. Under the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (IDEA), children with autism/PDD may be eligible
for early intervention services (birth to 3) and an educational
program appropriate to their individual needs. In addition
to academic instruction, special education programs for
students with autism/PDD (ages 3 to 22) focus on improving
communication, social, academic, behavioral, and daily living
skills. Behavior and communication problems that interfere
with learning often require the assistance of a professional
who is particularly knowledgeable in the autism field to
develop and help implement a plan which can be carried out
at home and school.
Baldi, H., & Detmers, D. (2000). Embracing play: Teaching
your child with autism [Video]. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House.
Autism Information Center at CDC
fact sheet is made possible through Cooperative Agreement
#H326N980002 between the Academy for Educational Development
and the Office of Special Education Programs. The contents
of this publication do not necessarily reflect the views
or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention
of trade names, commercial products or organizations imply
endorsement by the U. S. Government.
NICHCY is an excellent resource for parents, teachers, advocates, and others who work with disabled children.