Background The assessment and treatment psychiatric disorders among individuals with developmental disorders is in a state of flux. Clinicians working in this field confront two heterogeneous conditions based on separate but overlapping biopsychosocial bodies of scientific and clinical experiences. Methods The paper is a review of the relevant literature and an effort to synthesize sokme of the major problem areas in differential diagnosis and treatment planning. Results There are many genetic, metabolic and neurobehavioral factors that influence both challenging behaviors and the emergence, recognition, and clinical course of mental disorders in people with developmental disorders. As such, clinicians need to redefine dichotomous thinking about boundaries between psychiatrics, neurologic, and behavioral disorders and therapies. Discussion Even though there are efforts to adapt our various systems of nomenclature for individuals with developmental disorders, most still rely on descriptive and categorical models. It may be time to reconsider models that incorporate etiological factors in the process of differential diagnosis and classification. By doing so, clinicians may enhance their capacity to match individuals with more finely tuned treatment plans. © 2008 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC.
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