Connecting the Dots


What is a neurodevelopmental disorder?

Neurodevelopmental disorders are formally recognized by medical doctors and psychiatrists as conditions that reduce or impair functioning in some significant ways that require medical and/or social support. This formal recognition is usually needed to access medical and social resources, insurance, tax credits, accommodations, and human rights protection.

The Diagnostics and Statistics Manual (DSM) of the American Psychological Association (APA) is the “bible” of mental disorders in North America, first published in 1952, and updated subsequently every five to seven years. In 2013, the DSM-V, significant changes to the section on Neurodevelopmental Disorders were made, combining a number of diagnoses into the following six categories:

  1. Intellectual Disability (ID), used interchangeably with the internationally recognized Intellectual Developmental Disorder (IDD), replaced the term “mental retardation” and required assessment of adaptive functioning as well as cognitive functioning.
  2. Social Communication Disorders (SCD) combined expressive and mixed receptive-expressive language disorders, speech sound (phonological) disorder, childhood-onset fluency disorder (stuttering), and social (pragmatic) communication disorder.
  3. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) combined autistic disorder (autism), Asperger’s disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified as they are all characterized by i) deficits in social communication and social interaction, and ii) restricted repetitive behaviours, interests, and activities (RRBs)
  4. Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) continued to be divided into two domains: inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity. Symptoms associated with these domains remain the same, but some assessment criteria have changed*.
  5. Specific Learning Disorders (SLD) replaced a list of learning problems in reading, math, writing, and not otherwise specified (NOS) because learning deficits commonly occur together while acknowledging internationally recognized categories such as dyslexia and dyscalculia.
  6. Motor Disorders (MD) combined developmental coordination disorder, stereotypic movement disorder, Tourette’s disorder and other tic disorders.

Why is it important to understand what is considered a neurodevelopmental disorder in the Canadian medical system?

If you have someone who can help you navigate the minefield of deficit-based language and labelling involved in the assessment and diagnosis process, you can learn a lot about how your brain functions. Understanding your brain and nervous system can make it easier to ask for support and accommodations. It will help you answer questions like:

  • Should I seek out a diagnosis?
  • What services are available to me once I am diagnosed?
  • What social, education and economic rights am I entitled to once I have a diagnosis?
  • What environmental changes would make my life easier?
  • How do I explain my perceptions and experiences to neurotypical family, friends, and colleagues?

Trying to navigate all this on your own can be daunting. That’s why we are here, at Scattergram, to walk with you through the minefield. And if you’ve already been diagnosed, we can help you decide what parts of this medical language apply to you and what you can leave behind as you make sense of your own neurodivergence.

A diagnosis is just the beginning of a lifelong journey to understand and make sense of your unique way of experiencing and perceiving the world.


Neurodevelopmental Disorders in the DSM 5: Changes and Definitions

*AD(H)D in the DSM-5: Changes and Diagnostic Criteria

The Dots

What is a neuro-developmental disorder?

A medical diagnosis that falls into one of six categories in the DSM-V and includes Autism Spectrum Disorder, AD(H)D, Specific Learning Disabilities (e.g., Dyslexia, Dyspraxia), and Tic disorders.

A diagnosis and working with a neurodiversity-affirming therapist can:


Help you understand your brain and nervous system


Assist you with accessing medical and social resources, insurance, tax credits, accommodations, and human rights protection


Become more skillful in translating yourself to others (self-advocacy, communication, and connection)

Author: WebM2

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