Pervasive Development Disorders (cont.)

What Causes Pervasive Development Disorders?

The cause of pervasive development disorders is not known, but researchers are looking for answers. Some studies suggest that PDDs are caused by a problem with the nervous system (brain and spinal cord). Studies currently in progress are examining the structure and function of the brain in people with autism for clues that may help us better understand these conditions, as well as how to treat and/or prevent them.

How Common Are Pervasive Development Disorders?

It is estimated that pervasive development disorders occur in about five to 15 children per 10,000 births. In general, PDDs are more common in boys than in girls, with the exception of Rett's syndrome, which occurs almost always in girls.

How Are Pervasive Development Disorders Diagnosed?

If symptoms of a pervasive development disorder are present, the doctor will begin an evaluation by performing a complete medical history and physical exam. Although there are no laboratory tests to diagnose a PDD, the doctor may use various tests -- such as X-rays and blood tests -- to determine if there is a physical disorder causing the symptoms.

If no physical disorder is found, the child may be referred to a specialist in childhood development disorders, such as a child and adolescent psychiatrist or psychologist, pediatric neurologist, developmental pediatrician, or other health professionals who are specially trained to diagnose and treat PDDs. The doctor bases his or her diagnosis on the child's level of development, and the doctor's observation of the child's speech and behavior, including his or her play and ability to socialize with others. The doctor often seeks input from the child's parents, teachers, and other adults who are familiar with the child's symptoms.

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