Developmental Disorders

The behavioral symptoms of tots and preschoolers with Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD) include often extremely difficult and out-of-control behaviors such as severe tantrums, aggression, and self-injuring. This category includes the disorders of autism, Rett's Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, and Asperger's Disorder. PDDs are characterized by severe and pervasive impairments in social interaction skills, communication skills, and/or the presence of an abnormally repetitive behavior, interest, or activity.

Autism appears to be strongly genetically predetermined since if a twin has autism there is almost a 90% chance that the identical twin, even when raised in a completely different home, will suffer from autism. The essential feature of autism is the presence before the age of three of an impaired development in social interaction and communication with a markedly restricted area of activity and interests. Autistic tots commonly do not look their parents in the eyes, do not seem interested in interacting or talking with family members, and seem oblivious to sharing facial expressions with people trying to communicate with them. They often have severe trouble in interacting with their peers and seem to have little or no interest in playing with other kids. Additionally, autistic tots and preschoolers are often preoccupied with one narrow interest or movement and they may launch into a rage to a touch or minor change in their surroundings. New research on autistic kids shows subtle brain abnormalities in infants and toddlers: their head circumference varies from most kids, starting too small and growing in spurts, parts of their brain have too many neural connections, and their brains show signs of chronic inflammation.

Children with Rett's Disorder (seen only in females and frequently associated with mental retardation) characteristically have a loss (between five to 40 months) of a previously normal head circumference; they wring their hands and have a very poorly coordinated gait.

In Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, there is normal development until the age of two to four years when the child disintegrates into the problems associated with autism. The behavioral symptoms that occur just prior to this severe decline in development include parent-perceived out-of-control behaviors like irritability and hyperactivity.

In Asperger's Disorder, the preschooler may have normal development and then begin to act uncoordinated or clumsy. After this, the young child begins a developmental decline of a markedly impaired ability to interact appropriately socially accompanied by repetitive behavioral movements or interests (similar to those seen in autism).



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