Pervasive Developmental Disorders
The term Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDDs) refers to a group of developmental and complex disorders that affect several areas of development These disorders are characterized by severe and pervasive delays in social interactions, communication, and/or the presence of stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests and activities.These disorders affect individuals differently and to varying degrees of severity. The PDD’s include Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, Rett’s Disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS).

Frequently and by the time students are referred to the school for an evaluation of the educational determination of Autism, the child has already been clinically diagnosed with a Pervasive Developmental Disorder. However, there are instances where school personnel will be the first to initiate and complete an evaluation for the educational impairment of Autism. From a clinical perspective, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-IV-Text Revision provides specific diagnostic criteria for each disorder falling along the spectrum of PDD’s, hence the term Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). Public school personnel, on the other hand, adhere to the diagnostic standards set forth by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (PI 11, Wisconsin Administrative Code). There is quite a bit of similarity between the DSM-IV-TR’s Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder and to a lesser degree PDD-NOS and those set forth by the DPI for the educational impairment of Autism. However, clinical disorders are more specific and discrete than the broader guidelines for the educational impairment of Autism. It is possible, therefore, for a child to be clinically diagnosed as one with Asperger’s Disorder or PDD-NOS and the educational impairment of Autism. School Personnel do not diagnose any clinical disorders.

Characteristics of a Pervasive Developmental Disorder
Signs of a PDD are usually recognizable by 3 years of age. However, symptoms can range from severe to so subtle that they seem to be relatively age appropriate. For that reason, it may take a few years to be identified as having a PDD or the educational impairment of Autism.

Early signs can include:

trouble interacting, playing with, or relating to others
avoiding eye contact; not looking at people when communicating
not pointing to objects to direct a parent's attention
unusual movements, such as hand flapping, spinning, or tapping
delays in developmental milestones or loss of milestones already achieved
playing with the same toy in a way that seems odd or repetitive
not using or understanding language as normally expected
not exploring environment with curiosity or interest
sensory defensiveness

Features of Autism and Asperger’s

  • Children with Autism or Asperger’s experience the world differently from the way most other children do.
  • Children with Asperger’s often have average to above average intelligence as well as typically developing language skills, whereas many times those with Autism do not.
  • It is often challenging for children with Autism or Asperger’s to communicate with other people and express themselves using words in a meaningful manner. Abstract and inferential reasoning skills are often poor. Normal sounds may bother someone with Autism or Asperger’s, so much so that the person covers his or her ears. Being touched, even in a gentle way, may feel uncomfortable.
  • Making connections (social, affect) that other children make easily can be very difficult. For example, when someone smiles, you know the smiling person is happy or being friendly. However, a child with Autism or Asperger’s may have trouble connecting that smile with the person's happy feelings.
  • A child with Autism or Asperger’s often has trouble linking words to their meanings. They often cannot come up with the right words to express their thoughts.
  • Children with autism sometimes act in unusual ways. They might flap their hands, repeat certain words, have temper tantrums, or favor one particular toy. Most children with autism and sometimes with Asperger’s have difficulty with changes in routines. They like to stay on a schedule that is always the same. They also may insist that their toys or other objects be arranged a certain way and get upset if these items are moved or disturbed.
  • If someone has Autism or Asperger’s, his or her brain has trouble with an important job that most of us do not have to work so hard to do, i.e., making sense of the world. Every day, your brain interprets the sights, sounds, smells, and other sensations that you experience. If your brain could not help you understand these things as others might normally expect, you would have trouble being successful in your everyday activities and functions.

What can the school do for children with Autism or Aspergers?

Certainly not all, but many children with a PDD or the educational impairment of Autism need some degree of special education and/or related services. Early education and intervention are essential to develop skills and work toward maximizing the child’s potential. Parents always have an option of requesting that an evaluation be completed by local school personnel. This could result in the child receiving a range of instructional and related supports designed to improve functional behaviors, communication, readiness skills and social interactions. For example, since spoken language can be very challenging for those with Autism, a speech and language therapist and/or an occupational therapist can help these children learn to more effectively communicate by pointing, using pictures, sign language or other means of augmenting communication. These types of strategies help give meaning to their world. Therapists and teachers (e.g., early childhood education, special education) also help children learn social skills, pre-academic/academic skills and functional behaviors.