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J Can Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2010 May; 19(2): 148–149.
PMCID: PMC2868566

Handbook of Developmental Disabilities

Reviewed by Senthil Damodharan, MD

Handbook of Developmental Disabilities.
Samuel L. Odom, editor. ,  Robert H. Horner, editor. ,  Martha E. Snell, editor. &  Jan Blacher, editor. , Editors.  The Guildford Press:  New York, NY,  2007. 654 pages. US  $80.00. 

“It takes a village to raise a child.” The famous African proverb has a greater meaning to the lives of developmentally disabled individuals. This is not surprising as developmental disability affects various aspects of human intellectual and physical development, and disabled individuals require a range of expertise at different ages depending on the developmental and adaptive challenges faced by them. The sheer breadth of the subject matter relevant to developmental disabilities and pace of knowledge explosion in each subspeciality has made it impossible to single-handedly keep abreast of advances in all related fields. This handbook is a useful addition to a growing list of texts covering the breadth of the field.

The editors have organised the book into eight sections. It starts off with ‘Foundations’ and the editors define the construct of developmental disabilities in the first chapter in a pragmatic manner. The impact of race, colour and ethnicity in United States (US) educational practice is well covered in a separate chapter and will resonate with Canadian readers working with similar populations. The book progresses to sections titled Issues in Health, Genetics & Neuroscience, Early Intervention, School-Age Education & Intervention, Post-school & Adult Issues, Behavior Supports, Family Issues, and finally signs off with a section on International Perspectives and Future Directions. This is a worthwhile read, although the unevenness in writing styles and approach to the topics in its thirty chapters make it difficult in parts, which is an inescapable aspect of a multi-authored text. Although the focus appears to be primarily on policies and practices in the US, the principles can be translated to other systems and settings.

As a psychiatrist I was keen to read the chapters related to psychiatric disorders and psychopharmacology. The chapter on psychiatric issues is impressive in its overview of the subject, including current evidence and issues related to diagnostic and treatment issues, and service delivery. The next chapter, ‘Psychotherapeutic Medications and Positive Behavior Support (PBS)’, articulates the concept of psychotropic medications impacting on the behavioural mechanisms that mediate challenging behaviours, providing a meaningful framework to conceptualize the role of medications within the framework of functional analysis and positive behaviour support (PBS). The field of PBS, which changed the behavioural treatment approaches for individuals with developmental disabilities and challenging behaviours, lost a pioneer academician and clinician recently, the late Edward G. Carr. The clarity of his writing, his masterful summary of the evolving field, and humility in acknowledging the limitations of PBS make the chapter he co-authors on the topic in this text a wonderful read.

I particularly enjoyed the chapters on early intervention. With increasing research and programmatic focus in this area, this section is a must read for policy makers to avoid problems that plague the delivery of early intervention services in the real world, as passionately articulated by Carl Dunst (pages 161–180).

The fourteen chapters included in the sections ‘School-age Education and Intervention’, ‘Post school and Adult Issues’ and ‘Family Issues’ are succinctly written, provide clear summaries of the current evidence base, and outline implications for practitioners, policy makers, and researchers. Practitioners will find useful ideas and practices to advocate for their patients and to inform program development and delivery. The issues highlighted and discussed in these chapters bring into sharp focus the importance of life-span services and programs for individuals with developmental disabilities.

Supportive public policies have a profound impact on lived experience. For example, a focus on providing accessible public spaces and facilities can have a transformative effect on the experience of physical disability in daily life. Policies are invariably affected by the prevailing politico-economic climate and persuasions. The chapter on the impact and evolution of public policies in the US, discussed using a framework of ‘core concepts’, is one of the best chapters in the book.

The authors of the chapter on international perspectives should be congratulated for their erudite discussion on the priorities and issues affecting the lives of people with developmental disability living in developing parts of the globe where the majority of the human population lives. The chapter titled ‘General Health’ is rambling and could have benefited from a tighter editorial direction and scrutiny, and I thought the chapter ‘Neuroscience’ was a missed opportunity due to lack of focus. The chapter titled ‘Genetics’ will appeal to clinicians. The chapters on research and the suggestions for further research contained in various chapters might whet the appetite of researchers in this field.

The book is recommended for departmental and hospital libraries.

Articles from Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry are provided here courtesy of Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry