Last week, I wrote about the new DSM-5. Although it is wise to make sure your student has an updated diagnosis, changes to the classification of the DSM-5 will not affect your student’s eligibility for special education services in Massachusetts. In July 2013, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) issued Technical Assistance Advisory SPED 2014-1 in response to the new changes in the DSM-5. The DESE reminded schools that eligibility for special education services is an educational decision, not a medical decision and that eligibility for special education does not require a school to make a medical diagnosis. In light of the fact that schools often receive reports from professionals who use the DSM to diagnose students, the DESE recognized that a change in diagnosis or a failure to qualify under the DSM-5 for a condition previously diagnosed under the DSM-IV could be confusing for school personnel. Accordingly, the DESE advised schools that “changes in the DSM-5 diagnostic categories do not alter a student’s current eligibility status or IEP nor does it change any of the federal or state laws or regulations related to the determination of special education eligibility or services.”
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, known as the DSM, is the publication that mental health professionals use to diagnose patients. The DSM was revised last year after a great deal of discussion, and the current version, the 5th edition, is known as the DSM-5. One of the most controversial changes made in the DSM-5 was the elimination of diagnoses of Asperger’s Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). Many people formerly diagnosed with Asperger’s or PDD-NOS will now fit under the new definition of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Those that don’t may fall under a new diagnosis called Social Communication Disorder. The DSM-5 also combined learning disorders of reading, writing, and math into one general category, and changed the way that ADD is diagnosed and classified. If your student has a diagnosis under the DSM-IV, the best practice would be to ask your clinician to revise the diagnosis so that it is consistent with the DSM-5.