students in computer lab

Spirit Lake Consulting, Inc. 's Virtual Library

Information on Specific Disabilities ....


As if having a child with a significant disability is not confusing enough, the terms keep changing. When we were young, there was a disorder known as Autism. Now there are a number of people who are diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. What the heck is Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD)?

Not long ago, a mother commented to me that the doctors had thought her son had Autism, "But now they think he has something else, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, they call it." She was relieved, because she had heard that Autism was really severe and she was hoping that PDD would not be so serious.

If you are our age (which, at the time of this writing is, to be specific, "old") you would remember when children were either autistic or not. Now, however, there are five categories of Pervasive Development Disorder.

All of have in common deficits in social interaction and communication. Often, people with these disorders show very little interest in other people. They have a limited number of interests, that tend to be very repetitive.


Autism is one type of Pervasive Developmental Disorder, so the mother who thought her child had a different, milder diagnosis was mistaken. People with autism may have an inflexible routine. If you saw the movie "Rain Man", there was a scene where the person with Austism had to watch a particular TV show at a particular time or he became uncontrollable. Another common characteristic of people with autism is repetitive movements, such as flapping their hands. They may also have an intense interest in a specific topic to the degree that it is abnormal. Other characteristics of Autism, and all other types of Pervasive Developmental Disorder, are difficulty with social skills. They tend to show little or no interest in playing with peers, talking to adults or being involved with other people.

By definition, children with autism show delays before age three.

Asperger's Syndome is what was once referred to as 'high-functioning' autism. The grandparent of a child with Asperger's described him to us like this, "My grandson won't look at you. He doesn't have much use for other people. If you let him, he will spend all day on the computer. At eight years old, he knows more about computers than most adults." The grandmother of another child with Asperger's said, "He doesn't talk much and isn't much interested in people but he knows more about flags than anyone I have ever seen. He is only ten years old and he knows the flag of every country in the world."

Three other types of PDD are:

Signs of Autism arrowhead pointing right