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Pervasive developmental disorders

Pervasive developmental disorders, now known as autism spectrum disorder, are characterized by delays in the development of social and communication skills. Parents may note symptoms as early as infancy, although the typical age of onset is by 3 years of age.

Symptoms may include:

  • Problems with using and understanding language
  • Difficulty relating to people, objects, and events
  • Different modes of playing with toys and other objects
  • Difficulty with changes in routine or surroundings
  • Repetitive body movements or behavior patterns

Children with pervasive developmental disorders vary widely. Some children do not speak at all, while others speak in limited phrases or conversations, and some have relatively average language development. Repetitive play skills and limited social skills are generally evident. Extreme responses to sensory information, such as loud noises and lights, are also common.

There is no known cure for pervasive developmental disorder. Medications may be used to address specific behavioral problems and therapy should be specialized according to the needs of each child. Some children with pervasive developmental disorder benefit from specialized classrooms and others function well in standard special education classes or regular classes with additional support.

Early intervention plays a critical role in improving the outcome of individuals with pervasive developmental disorder.

How can I or my loved one help improve care for people with pervasive developmental disorders?

Consider participating in a clinical trial so clinicians and scientists can learn more about pervasive developmental disorder and related disorders. Clinical research uses human volunteers to help researchers learn more about a disorder and perhaps find better ways to safely detect, treat, or prevent disease.

All types of volunteers are needed—those who are healthy or may have an illness or disease—of all different ages, sexes, races, and ethnicities to ensure that study results apply to as many people as possible, and that treatments will be safe and effective for everyone who will use them.

For information about participating in clinical research visit NIH Clinical Research Trials and You. Learn about clinical trials currently looking for people with pervasive developmental disorder at

Where can I find more information about pervasive developmental disorders?

Information may be available from the following resources:

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)


Content source: Accessed June 29, 2023.

The information in this document is for general educational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for personalized professional advice. Although the information was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, MedLink, its representatives, and the providers of the information do not guarantee its accuracy and disclaim responsibility for adverse consequences resulting from its use. For further information, consult a physician and the organization referred to herein.

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