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Autism Res. 2011 Apr;4(2):121-31. doi: 10.1002/aur.178. Epub 2011 Feb 4.

Toward specifying pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified.

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  • 1Research Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1N 6BT, United Kingdom.


Pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) is the most common and least satisfactory of the PDD diagnoses. It is not formally operationalized, which limits its reliability and has hampered attempts to assess its validity. We aimed, first, to improve the reliability and replicability of PDD-NOS by operationalizing its DSM-IV-TR description and, second, to test its validity through comparison with autistic disorder (AD) and Asperger's disorder (AsD). In a sample of 256 young people (mean age = 9.1 years) we used Developmental, Diagnostic and Dimensional (3Di) algorithmic analysis to classify DSM-IV-TR AD (n = 97), AsD (n = 93) and PDD-NOS (n = 66). Groups were compared on independent measures of core PDD symptomatology, associated autistic features, and intelligence. Contrary to the assumption that PDD-NOS is heterogeneous, almost all (97%) of those with PDD-NOS had one distinct symptom pattern, namely impairments in social reciprocity and communication, without significant repetitive and stereotyped behaviors (RSB). Compared to AD and AsD, they had comparably severe but more circumscribed social communication difficulties, with fewer non-social features of autism, such as sensory, feeding and visuo-spatial problems. These individuals appear to have a distinct variant of autism that does not merely sit at the less severe end of the same continuum of symptoms. The current draft guidelines for DSM-V, which mandate the presence of RSBs for any PDD diagnosis, would exclude such people from the autistic spectrum.

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