This article reviews the results of 43 studies published since 1966 that provided estimates for the prevalence of pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs), including autistic disorder, Asperger disorder, PDD not otherwise specified, and childhood disintegrative disorder. The prevalence of autistic disorder has increased in recent surveys and current estimates of prevalence are around 20/10,000, whereas the prevalence for PDD not otherwise specified is around 30/10,000 in recent surveys. Prevalence of Asperger disorder is much lower than that for autistic disorder and childhood disintegrative disorder is a very rare disorder with a prevalence of about 2/100,000. Combined all together, recent studies that have examined the whole spectrum of PDDs have consistently provided estimates in the 60-70/10,000 range, making PDD one of the most frequent childhood neurodevelopmental disorders. The meaning of the increase in prevalence in recent decades is reviewed. There is evidence that the broadening of the concept, the expansion of diagnostic criteria, the development of services, and improved awareness of the condition have played a major role in explaining this increase, although it cannot be ruled out that other factors might have also contributed to that trend.