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AAIDD Calls Upon APA to Revise Proposed Diagnosis of “Intellectual Developmental Disorder”

Washington, DC (May 17, 2012)

The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) issued strongly-worded comments to American Psychiatric Association (APA) on its proposed definition and diagnostic criteria for what was previously referred to as “mental retardation.”

APA has sought comments on draft criteria for a number of diagnostic categories, including a proposed revision to the category “mental retardation” that is slated to be modified in name and criteria to become “intellectual developmental disorder” in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual on Mental Disorders (DSM-5), anticipated to be published in May of 2013. 

AAIDD is extremely troubled by both the proposed revisions to the diagnostic criteria—which does not align with its own thoroughly researched and professionally accepted definition of intellectual disability—and the proposed name change, which is inconsistent with national and international moves to adopt the term “intellectual disability” as the replacement for “mental retardation.”

Founded in 1876, AAIDD is the oldest professional society concerned with intellectual disability. AAIDD has long been the leader in the terminology and classification of the condition now known as intellectual disability, having published 11 editions of its terminology and classification manual since 1910. The most current edition of this manual, published in 2010, is Intellectual Disability: Definition, Classification, and Systems of Support.

The proposed changes, if finalized, would not only be a break in the shared understanding of the two leading organizations on the condition, they could also be highly disruptive: the historical consistency between the APA and AAIDD definitions has been the basis for service eligibility, citizenship and legal status, civil and criminal justice, early childhood education, training and employment, income support, and health care.

In October 2010, President Barack Obama signed “Rosa’s Law,” which replaced the term “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability” in federal education, health, and labor laws, signaling the adoption of “intellectual disability” as the accepted term to replace “mental retardation.” 

“It would be disastrous from a public policy and service eligibility perspective should the APA finalize the DSM-5 with terminology and definition that is inconsistent with AAIDD,” said Dr. Margaret Nygren, Executive Director of AAIDD. “We understand that the task of developing the DSM-5 is enormous and that there are hundreds of conditions to review, explain, and define. We strongly encourage APA to turn to AAIDD and its definition and diagnostic criteria for intellectual disability in its DSM-5. Intellectual disability is our primary focus, and our current terminology and classification manual was authored by a nationally and internationally respected interdisciplinary committee of clinicians, educators, and researchers in the field of intellectual disability.”

APA’s final public comment period on the DSM-5 draft criteria ends June 15, 2012. See the proposed criteria and submit comments to APA here.

View AAIDD's comments to APA here.


For more information, please contact Margaret Nygren at

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