Pervasive development disorders, now formally called autism spectrum disorders are a group of childhood disorders characterized by problems with socializing and communicating, trouble with change in routine, and an obsession with repetitive movements and behaviors. Autistic spectrum disorders include autistic disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).

Asperger’s syndrome

Asperger’s syndrome is categorized as a form of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). It is characterized by persistent impairments in social behavior and repetitive patterns and behaviors with restricted interests. Individuals with Asperger’s may or may not have language impairment or catatonia but have normal or even superior intelligence. Individuals with Asperger syndrome have accomplished cutting-edge research in computer science, mathematics, and physics, as well as outstanding creative work in art, film, and music. These individuals will often come off as apathetic and emotionally indifferent without any awareness they are acting this way. Asperger syndrome is generally evident in children older than age 3 years and occurs most often in males. There is no known cause of Asperger’s syndrome but genetics do play a large role in having an increased risk for Asperger’s syndrome.

Autistic disorder

Autism is a childhood pervasive disorder that results in abnormal social interactions, poor communication skills, and restricted repetitive behaviors, interests, and activities. This disorder of childhood can be seen as a sensory disorder as many children prefer to play with only one type of toy or are accustomed to only one type of sound. Parents of children with autism report unusual responses to environmental stimuli, including excessive reaction or an unexpected lack of reaction to sensory input. Certain sounds such as vacuum cleaners or motorcycles may elicit incessant screaming. Playing a radio, stereo, or television at a loud level may appear to produce hyperacusis, a condition in which ordinary sounds produce excessive auditory stimulation of a painful magnitude. Sometimes parents must rearrange the family routine so that the child is absent during noisy housekeeping activities. Children with autistic disorder may also display exaggerated responses or rage to everyday sensory stimuli, such as bright lights or even touching. This sensory overload could be one of the reasons why these children prefer to play by themselves and have restricted repetitive behaviors such as building with the same blocks over and over again.

Childhood disintegrative disorder

Childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD) is a developmental disorder that resembles autism. It is characterized by at least two years of normal development, followed by loss of language, social skills, and motor skills before age ten. In autism, however, previously acquired skills are not usually lost. According to the Handbook of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders, virtually all children with CDD lose speech and social skills. Other names for childhood disintegrative disorder are Heller’s syndrome, dementia infantilism, and disintegrative psychosis.

Treatment for autism spectrum disorders

The emphasis falls on early and intense educational interventions. Most treatment is behavior-based and highly structured. Educating the parents so that they can support the child’s treatments at home is usually part of the overall treatment plan. Speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, social skills development, and sensory integration therapy may all be used according to the needs of the individual child.