Disability Definitions Revised

Ever wonder what all the terms used to define different disabilities really mean? In my job as a placement specialist, working with people with disabilities, I come across a lot of different definitions for the various disabilities that people have. Some of them are obvious and self-explanatory; depression, for instance. Then there are ones like DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder). For many years this disability was known as multiple personality disorder. Even for someone working in the field it is sometimes a challenge to understand what all of the different definitions mean.

A revised edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, otherwise known as the DSM-5, was released last month by the American Psychiatric Association last month after extensive study and public comment. This revision changes the definition for many disabilities seen in schools and in the work environment. Although changes might not be seen right away, the new definitions which were 14 years in the making, require awareness for people living with disabilities for this may result in label changes, especially in school-aged individuals.

People may wonder why labels and definitions are necessary at all when it comes to describing different disabilities. The simplified answer: it offers a common language and a method to ensure that diagnoses of mental disorders are consistent for everyone. The revised manual offers new research in the mental health field and describes over 300 officially recognized disorders.

One of the significant changes to come about is the change to Autism. Previously Asperger’s was another type of disability, although it was associated with Autism. Now Asperger’s has been eliminated and Autism is only defined as one disability under “Autism Spectrum Disorder”.

In the revised manual there is now a new category called “social communication disorder”. This is used for people who may have difficulty with conversational skills but do not have restricted or repetitive behaviors associated with autism.

Though the new changes will not effect everyone with a disability, I think it is important for people to be aware of them. For more information on definitions and revisions of the mental health manual read the full article on this topic by Christina Samuels at http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2013/06/05/33diagnostic.h32.html?tkn=TXUF%2FF7E6tn9KwYICPI7ziFJwTIMHksp45%2B7&cmp=clp-edweek

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