Affiliation: Child Neuropsychiatry Unit, University of Pavia, Department of Child Neurology and Psychiatry, IRCCS Mondino, Via Mondino, 2, 27100 Pavia, Italy.
Diagnosis of pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs), and above all diagnosis of the different PDD subtypes, is an ongoing challenge in psychopathology. Application of categorical criteria is complex and problematic in the clinical field where the boundaries dividing some of the PDD entities are blurred, creating particular problems for the clinician. A dimensional clinical approach, considering autistic symptom severity, level of functioning, developmental characteristics and symptoms other than the ones typically observed in autism, may be a more suitable approach in the clinical field and could provide the clinician treating these disorders with empirical guidance. To identify the clinical features that might differentiate the PDD subtypes, we conducted a comparative study in a clinical sample of children affected by autism disorder (AD) or pervasive developmental disorders not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and a mini critical review of the available literature addressing clinical and psychopathological differences between the two subtypes. The results of both our study and our literature review seem to show little support for the current PDD subtypes. In such a framework, the most significant element in clinical practice appears to be a deep knowledge of the characteristics of the individual in question. By adopting a broad and multi-faceted perspective, it becomes possible to define the most effective rehabilitation treatment. This applies particularly to the pharmacological treatment, since, to date, no specific therapies for PDDs are known and the choice of pharmacotherapy can be decided only on the basis of the patient’s general profile and specific features.