Parents regularly wonder if the unusual behaviors they observe in their child could be the first signs of a pervasive developmental disorder. The Autisme France and Autistes sans frontières associations provide tools to enable early detection of PDDs, the main elements of which are listed here.

These tools specify that if the spectrum of autistic disorders is vast, three elements must attract attention, especially if they are added to each other: disorders of social interactions, disorders of verbal and non-verbal communication, and the presence of stereotypical and repetitive behaviors.


Depending on the child’s level of development, social interaction disorders range from excessive isolation to simple passivity towards the environment. These symptoms are not expressed in “all or nothing” terms. The presence of certain social skills or the occasional manifestation of adapted social behavior does not exclude the diagnosis of PDD.

Examples of social interaction disorders in PDDs
  • No smile or late smile in response to a smile.
  • Apparent indifference to people.
  • Impassibility in the face of the presence of others.
  • Excessive reaction or indifference to sounds (the child may appear to be deaf).
  • No reaction to the call of his first name.
  • The child does not reach out in anticipation of being carried.
  • Refusal to be comforted, refusal of the embrace.
  • Solitary activities.


Children with PDD may not speak, say only a few words, or speak in strange ways. Their sentences, even when they are formally correct, serve little or no communication.

Examples of verbal and non-verbal communication disorders in PDDs
  • Absence or delay of language (or stopping after the start of language acquisition).
  • Inability to communicate, either by speech, by gesture, or by facial expressions.
  • Very limited understanding of language.
  • Difficulty imitating facial expressions or certain gestures, such as pointing, clapping, or greeting.
  • Lack of response to other people’s attempts to communicate.
  • Anomalies in the form or content of language: tendency to repeat what he hears; repetitions of sentences, immediate or delayed.
  • Present but limited utilitarian language (demand for object, food, attention, etc.) and poor use of language for age-appropriate social interactions.
  • Lack of appropriate intonation of the voice.
  • Difficulty using personal pronouns appropriately (“you” is used instead of “I”).


Repetitive behavior is abnormal in form, intensity, frequency and persistence. These range from simple repeated activities to complex compulsive rituals.

Examples of stereotypical and repetitive behavior in PDDs
  • Special handling of objects (spinning or aligning them).
  • Excessive attachment to unusual objects.
  • Unusual movements of the body (swaying, rapid flapping of the hands in butterfly wings).
  • Abnormal reactions to objects (staring at an object or light for long periods of time).
  • Intolerance of changes in environmental elements, even insignificant ones, manifested in tears or anger.
  • Insistence on strictly pursuing routine acts.