Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment in Psychiatry

Adaptation & Competence

Research in developmental psychology has sometimes enabled sharper distinctions between normal and abnormal (such as when a genetic marker of a disorder is identified), but more often it has articulated the continuity between normal and abnormal. Research has suggested that disorders might be defined less by noncontextualized behavioral criteria (eg, a score on an IQ test) and more by an assessment of the individual’s level of adaptation and functioning. This concept has been embraced by the term competence, or adaptive functioning, which is the level of performance by an individual in meeting the demands of his or her environment to the degree that would be expected given the environment and the individual’s age, background, and biological potentials.

Empirical research has shown that measures of childhood social competence are important predictors of adolescent psychiatric disorders, including conduct disorder and mood disorders. Impaired social competence is a premorbid marker for the onset of schizophrenia and is a predictor of relapse.

The concurrent importance of adaptive functioning is so obvious that this concept has become part of the diagnostic criteria for some disorders. For example, a diagnosis of mental retardation requires impairment in adaptive functioning above and beyond the score on an IQ test. A diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder requires impairment in social functioning in addition to the absolute pattern of anxiety. A diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder requires marked personal distress or significant impairment in functioning. Some broad definitions of mental disorder are based on a general assessment of an impairment in adaptive functioning due to cognitive or emotional disturbance.

Latest entries

  What Is Mental Health Services Research?

  Functions of Mental Health Services Research

  Child versus Adult Research

  History of Services Research

  Relevance to Psychiatry

  Current Issues & Findings in Mental Health Services Research

  Implications for Future Research


  Anxiety Disorders

  Eating Disorders

  Autistic Disorder

  Antisocial Personality Disorder

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