PDD-NOS: Moving Beyond the Diagnosis

PDD-NOS   stands for pervasive developmental disorder.  According to the diagnostic literature, it means that a child has a severe impairment in his development of reciprocal social interaction.  This impairment involves both verbal and nonverbal communication.  In a nutshell, it means that a child cannot communicate effectively with the outside world.  PDD-NOS is one of the three types of spectrum disorders; it is an atypical form of autism.

Children with autism are considered to be unaware and devoid of feelings.  These children, like mine, have been described as “not being able to differentiate a person from an armchair.”  Diagnostic categories lump children into tight categories with no possible differences.  These categories do not take into account that children do, in fact, differ from one another –even when they are on the spectrum.

When a diagnostic label is assigned to a child, it is assumed that a child has very specific deficits and that there is nothing unique about him.  This is what I refer to as a cookie cutter diagnosis.

My son has PDD-NOS, and if someone had only considered the tight criteria that the label suggests, my son would never have qualified for an autistic diagnosis.  He is warm, friendly and loving.  He has made it clear that he can differentiate a person from a piece of furniture.  In fact, he actually has a group of people he is particularly fond of.  He also understands when people truly care about him, and, thank God, people do.  My son was lucky enough to have professionals in his life that recognized his conditions and made sure that he had access to all the services he needed, but who were also keenly aware of his unique potential.

While labels can certainly be helpful in terms of these children gaining access to certain services, they can also be limiting in terms of people ever believing they should expect anything different from the child other than the deficits the disorder assigns them.  This is where the dilemma lies.

Moving forward, it will be important to bridge the gap between the usefulness of a diagnostic label and the limitations it can impose.  As with any condition, medical, physical or mental, it is critical to remember that things will look a bit different from situation to situation.

My son meets full criteria for 5 different conditions (medical, physical and developmental), but I can tell you two things:  he is unlike any child I have ever met, and hands down, he would rather spend the afternoon with his grandmother than an armchair any day!

By the way, he also LOVES Mickey Mouse!!!

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