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AAIDD Definition of Intellectual Disability - SSA Medical Criteria for Evaluating Mental Disorders

  • Published: 2010-09-07 - Contact: American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
  • Synopsis: The AAIDD Definition of Intellectual Disability Cited in SSA Proposed Revision of Medical Criteria for Evaluating Mental Disorders.

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The AAIDD Definition of Intellectual Disability is Cited in SSA's Proposed Revision of Medical Criteria for Evaluating Mental Disorders - Individualized supports remain a cornerstone of the AAIDD System of diagnosing and defining intellectual disability.

The definition of intellectual disability as cited in the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities' definition manual, Intellectual Disability: Definition, Classification, and Systems of Supports (Eleventh edition), is now part of the U.S. Social Security Administration's (SSA) Revised Medical Criteria for Mental Disorders as it appears in the Federal Register at The intent of the proposed changes is to update the criteria for eligibility for benefits under titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (notably SSI and SSDI) so that applications will be evaluated based on the most current diagnostic criteria, assessment strategies, and understanding of the course of the disability.

"The Social Security Administration is to be commended for taking steps to assure that the applications for determination of disability are evaluated in a manner consistent with current research and public opinion," says Margaret Nygren, EdD, Executive Director and CEO of AAIDD. "As a result of this clarification, applications will be evaluated more appropriately and people with intellectual and other disabilities will receive the benefits to which they are entitled."

The AAIDD System is based on an advanced view of disability that providing proper supports will enhance the functioning of a person with an intellectual disability. While intellectual functioning, adaptive behavior, and age of onset remain the criteria for diagnosing intellectual disability, supports remain the cornerstone of the AAIDD System. Once a diagnosis of intellectual disability is made, planning and providing supports is the key to align a person's capabilities and skills with what is required to successfully participate in daily life.

"The focus of the AAIDD System on individualized supports, and its strong basis in research, professional standards, and informed clinical judgment allow professionals and service providers to plan progressive services and enhance the quality of life of people living with an intellectual disability," says Robert L. Schalock, PhD, co-author of Intellectual Disability. Learn more about Intellectual Disability at To purchase Intellectual Disability, visit Watch interviews with the book authors at

Founded in 1876, AAIDD promotes progressive policies, sound research, effective practices and universal human rights for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.


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