You may be familiar with autism or autism spectrum disorders. However, you may be less familiar with the acronym PDD-NOS which stands for Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified. When a child doesn’t meet the criteria for a specific autism spectrum disorder, such as Asperger’s Syndrome (also known as Asperger’s Disorder), Rett’s Disorder, or Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, he may be diagnosed with PDD-NOS.
PDD-NOS and Asperger’s Syndrome are thought to be less severe than other autism spectrum disorders, and in some ways, this is true. For example, children with PDD-NOS can speak, whereas children with classic autism cannot. Yet, the social and communication impairments of children with PDD-NOS can be just as challenging. Because your child can speak does not mean that she does so at the appropriate time.
As a mother of a child who was initially diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and later with PDD-NOS, this is apparent to me. There are times when my son should speak but is at a loss for words, and there are times when he should be silent but continues to speak, i.e., repeating phrases he has heard on television, from me, or at the movies (known as echolalia); or when he asks for something and gets a negative response, he will continue to ask for the same item repeatedly (known as perseveration). After much therapy, he has learned to accept no for an answer and is in the process of learning how to not perseverate as much.
Just like other autism spectrum disorders, PDD-NOS does not present itself the same way in each child. In the classroom, your child’s symptoms may include any or all of the following:
Difficulty following instructions. Your child may not respond to simple instructions due to delays in communication and social skills.
Concrete responses to assignments. When a child is told to fill in the blanks, he may believe he has to actually pour a substance on the blank line rather than write words on it.
Different style of communication. A child may speak with reversed pronouns, i.e., (“You want the pencil” when referring to self), continuously repeat phrases, or take all speech literally (believe it is really raining “cats and dogs”).
Conflicts with peers. Child may not be able to understand others’ perspectives. He may grab toys or persistently repeat a request when the class has moved on to other tasks.
Upset, tantrum, or distress for no apparent reason. Children may be upset for reasons that don’t seem valid to others, such as removal of items from the classroom, rearranged furniture, or new decorations which can all cause distress.
Limited range of speech or expression. Children may not be able to sustain a conversation and may give one-word answers. Their speech may be monotone, loud, or unusually high pitched.
Lack of eye contact and focus. Children may make little or no eye contact with the person who is speaking to them. They can also be easily distracted by sounds in the classroom environment.
Other mental health or learning challenges. A child with PDD-NOS may have difficulty with controlling his emotions, have attention problems, or have other special learning needs.
Medications may affect behavior. Treatment can affect a child’s mood or behavior and should be discussed with your child’s doctor and teacher.
If your child is having challenges in the classroom associated with her diagnosis of PDD-NOS, you can ask her teacher to help by making her day as structured as possible and preparing her for any changes from the usual routine in advance, i.e., field trips, off-site activities, or any changes from the norm. Other ways in which the school can help are by providing a full evaluation and needed services for your child, inclusive of speech therapy, social skills training, and a one-on-one aide, depending on the severity of symptoms.