It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between mental retardation and other conditions currently covered by SSI, the so-called categorical disorders: autism, learning disability, borderline intellectual functioning, and organic mental disorders marked by specific behavioral phenotypes. It is particularly important to make these distinctions when selecting treatments and developing plans for education, habilitation, and vocational training. Diagnostic information is used in making very different types of decisions in clinical, educational, vocational, and SSI contexts. In educational settings, it is critical to determine if a condition other than mental retardation (like a specific learning disability or sensory, motor, or psychiatric impairment) is causing or contributing to poor performance. These differential diagnoses have direct implications for developing individualized plans of treatment and instruction to encourage learning. In clinical settings, arriving at the correct differential diagnosis determines appropriate and effective treatment and prevention strategies.


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