“Diagnosis /di·ag·no·sis/ (di″ag-no´sis) the determination of the nature of a case of a disease or the distinguishing of one disease from another.”
– Dorland’s Medical Dictionary for Health Consumers. © 2007 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

Diagnoses describe a group of symptoms or behaviors. However,  since every individual is unique, they won’t fit perfectly in a box – and we should not attempt to make them fit.  As it says in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 37a), “The world was created (just) for me.”

Individuals grow and change; therefore, a diagnosis doesn’t define the ultimate potential of any given child. In fact, sometimes it might be too early to make a diagnosis.

For a comprehensive list of disorders and additional information, please see the CDC website at

“Who is rich? He/she who rejoices in his/her portion.”

Pirkei Avot - Ethics of the Fathers

Autism & Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

People with autism experience social deficits, communication problems and have repetitive or resticted behaviors, with an onset in at least one area by age 3. It may or may not be associated with language delays or intellectual disability. An estimated 1.5 million individuals in the U.S. and tens of millions of people worldwide are affected by autism. While there is no medical test to diagnose autism, a diagnosis is based on observed behavior, educational and psychological testing. Get more information on autism and autism spectrum disorders.

Down Syndrome

Down syndrome is a genetic condition that causes delays in physical and intellectual development. The majority of children with Down syndrome have mild to moderate intellectual disability. It occurs in approximately one in every 800 live births, making it the most frequently occurring chromosomal disorder. Although individuals with Down syndrome have distinct physical characteristics, generally they are more similar to the average person in the community than they are different. Get more information on Down syndrome.


Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)

FASD describes the broad spectrum of effects that can occur in an individual whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. FASD can cause physical and mental disabilities of varying levels of severity (including intellectual disability). The good news is FAS is not hereditary and can only occur if a woman drinks alcohol during her pregnancy. There is no cure for this condition and it does not appear to get better with age. However, early identification can help children receive services that maximize their potential. Get more information on fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

Intellectual Disability

People with intellectual disability generally have a lessened mental capability which affects their ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience. Studies show that somewhere between 1% and 3% of Americans have intellectual disability. There are many causes of intellectual disability that include physical, genetic and/or social factors. The most common syndromes associated with intellectual disability are autism, Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Get more information on intellectual disability.

Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS)/Abusive Head Trauma (AHT)

Shaken baby syndrome (SBS) or Abusive Head Truama (AHT) is caused by vigorous shaking of an infant or young child by the arms, legs, chest or shoulders that can lead to brain damage, intellectual disability, speech and learning disabilities, paralysis, seizures, hearing loss and even death. One in four babies die as a result of this abuse, making it the most common cause of mortality and accounts for the most long-term disability in infants and young children due to physical abuse. Get more information on shaken baby syndrome and abusive head trauma.

Tuberous Sclerosis Complex

Tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) is a genetic disorder that causes tumors to form in vital organs, primarily the brain, eyes, heart, kidney, liver, skin and lungs.  TSC is a highly variable disease.  Some people with TSC live independent, healthy lives and enjoy challenging professions such as doctors, lawyers, educators and researchers.  Others with the disease often experience uncontrollable seizures, autism, heart disease, learning and behavioral problems, facial disfigurement, kidney failure and, sometimes, even death.  Approximately 80 percent of those with TSC develop kidney lesions.  In addition, TSC is the leading genetic cause of both autism spectrum disorder and epilepsy. Up to 50 percent of people with TSC develop autism, while about 85 percent experience seizures at some point during their lives.  Currently there is no cure.  Nearly 1 million people worldwide are known to have TSC, with approximately 50,000 in the United States.  At least two children born each day in the United States will have TSC.  While some cases go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed due to the obscurity of the disease or mild form symptoms may take in some people, TSC is as common as ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) or cystic fibrosis. Get more information.


Muscular Dystrophies

When a child has muscular dystrophy, this means that the muscle fibres in the body gradually weaken over time. Children can have different types of muscular dystrophy. The most common type is Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy which occurs only in boys. All types of muscular dystrophy are genetic even though other family members may not have the condition. There is more information on the Raising Children Network website Muscular dystophy.

Acquired Brain and Spinal Injuries

Physical disabilities may result from permanent injuries to the brain, spinal cord or limbs that prevent proper movement in parts of the body. Have a look at our topic Acquired brain injury.

Spina Bifida

Sometimes, a baby’s spinal cord (the nerves that run down the spine) do not develop normally during pregnancy (Neural tube defects). When this happens, the child can have a physical disability called spina bifida. The type and amount of disability caused by spina bifida will depend upon the level of the abnormality of the spinal cord. Children with spina bifida may have:

  • Partial or full paralysis of the legs
  • Difficulties with bowel and bladder control.

They may also have:

  • Hydrocephalus (high pressure on the brain because of fluid not being drained away as normal)
  • Bone and joint deformities (they may not grow normally)
  • Curvature (bending) of the spine.

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the parts of the brain which control movement during the early stages of development. In most cases, this damage occurs during pregnancy. However, damage can sometimes occur during birth and from brain injuries in early infancy (such as lack of oxygen from near drowning, meningitis, head injury or being shaken).

Children with cerebral palsy may have difficulties with:

  • Posture (the ability to put the body in a chosen position and keep it there)
  • Movement of body parts or the whole body
  • Muscle weakness or tightness
  • Involuntary muscle movements (spasms)
  • Balance and coordination
  • Talking and eating.

Children can have different types of cerebral palsy:

  • Hemiplegia (involves muscle movements and weakness on one side of the body)
  • Diplegia (involves muscle movements and weakness in the lower part of the body)
  • Quadriplegia (involves muscle movements and weakness in both arms and both legs)
  • Ataxia (involves problems with balance and coordination).

Multiple disabilities

Some children with physical disabilities will have other disabilities, such as intellectual, visual or hearing impairments. They may also have communication difficulties or other medical conditions such as epilepsy or asthma. When a child has several different types of disability, professionals talk about multiple disabilities rather than listing separate conditions.



Adult Disorders

Dissociative Disorders

Feeding & Eating Disorders

Sexual & Paraphilic Disorders

Sleep & Wake Disorders

Childhood Disorders

Childhood disorders, often labeled as developmental disorders or learning disorders, most often occur and are diagnosed when the child is of school-age. Although some adults may also relate to some of the symptoms of these disorders, typically the disorder’s symptoms need to have first appeared at some point in the person’s childhood.

Personality Disorders

These disorders typically aren’t diagnosed until an individual is a young adult, often not until their 20’s or even 30’s. Most individuals with personality disorders lead pretty normal lives and often only seek psychotherapeutic treatment during times of increased stress or social demands. Most people can relate to some or all of the personality traits listed; the difference is that it does not affect most people’s daily functioning to the same degree it might someone diagnosed with one of these disorders. Personality disorders tend to be an intergral part of a person, and therefore, are difficult to treat or “cure.” Learn more about personality disorders and personality traits

Other Mental Disorders