Atypical Cognitive and
Social Development
Child Development
1. Analysis of the strengths and
weaknesses of theoretical
frameworks for conceptualizing
atypical patterns of cognitive and
Social development.
2. Familiarity with major research
findings regarding atypical patterns
of cognitive and social
Kleinberg (1982) "The child faces a variety of
developmental tasks. These are determined by
such factors as physical maturation, increasing
cognitive and communicative capacities and
changing social and affective needs" (p. 23).
Disabling conditions interfere with ‘typical’
growth and development, psychologically,
cognitively and physically. Disability can
negatively effect ‘normal’ cognitive development.
The major paradigms that have been used in
conceptualizing and studying atypical cognitive
and social development include Constructivism,
Information Processing, Socioculturalism,
(Social) Learning Theory, and Bioadaptation.
Issues related to perceptual organization,
memory, concepts of physical and social
causality, problem-solving, formation of social
relationships, self-awareness and selfregulation, and social inferencing.
Empirical studies of cognitive development
usually report the abilities that children display at
different ages. The cognitive mechanisms that
allow a child with a disability to move from one
set of abilities to a more complex set remain
shrouded in mystery.
Erikson’s Stage Model
According to Erikson's stages of development, tasks
which must be mastered at each stage may be short
circuited by the intrusion of a disability.
Lack of mastery of certain tasks at particular stages
leads to non-mastery or the negative counterpart of each
stage. The disabled child may suffer more from the lack
of mastery of certain tasks than from the disability itself.
The theory can give the caregiver an idea of what
accomplishments a child may achieve at each level, and
help support the child at each stage to reach their full
In comparison, the theory can support discriminatory
notions of disability and reinforce that disability is a
Piaget's (1970) cognitive theory is age-dependent and suggests that
the ability to reason develops through specific age-stage periods
future skills depending on the mastery of those before.
A process of acquiring mental representations of increasing
complexity: assimilation, accommodation and equilibration.
Running throughout Piaget's theory is the need for an individual to
move, explore, master, construct through play and movement and
the use of language to recall or categorize what has been learned
(Anastasiow, 1986).
Theory stresses individual's need to interact with the environment. If
the environment is safe then normal cognitive development can take
place along with normal psychosocial development. Therefore,
disability can effect the psychosocial development, which, in turn,
can greatly effect the cognitive growth of the individual at every
Theory has been used as a diagnostic tool.
Assert that children with intellectual disabilities
pass through the same stages of maturation but
at a slower stage. Some individuals do not reach
the higher level of formal operational thinking.
Westwood (1989) School age children with
moderate learning difficulties tend to function at
the ‘concrete operational’ stage.
Whereas youngsters who live with severe
learning disabilities ‘sensori-motor’ or ‘preoperational’
Commonsense methods for children with special educational needs. Westwood (1989)
Research findings in learning disabilities based on
Piaget's theory were reviewed by Fakouri (1991) .
Superimposing the findings of research on Piagetian
stages of cognitive development, it appears that during
the sensorimotor stage the diagnosis of learning
disabilities is difficult. The research findings suggest that
there is a delay in cognitive development of learningdisabled children during elementary school years, which
corresponds to preoperational, concrete operational, and
transition to formal operational stages. From a genetic
epistemological perspective, research evidence supports
a developmental lag approach to learning disabilities.
This research has Implications for assessment,
curriculum planning, and education provision.
M. E. Fakouri Psychology in the Schools. Volume 28, Issue 1 , Pages70 - 76. Copyright © 1991 Wiley
Periodicals, Inc., A Wiley Company
Research has supported the idea that Piagetian teaching methods
can improve cognitive abilities of children who experience
Williams (Journal of intellectual disability research, 1996) used a
simplified version of Piaget's sensorimotor levels was employed to
teach a group of 25 extremely impaired individuals who live in a
large residential home. Using this tool, an average of 13% of
individuals from the common population pool increased their scores
over a 6-year time period. All of the individuals who received training
within the experimental group demonstrated increased scores.
Scores increased such that an average gain of nearly I month in
overall age equivalency per individual per year was realized. A
matched group comparison, a prediction test for like sensorimotor
skill attainment (the primary distinction of this curriculum
methodology), and an historical review of subject skill training, all
support the cognitively geared methodology as being primarily
responsible for this accelerated progress.
Vygotsky & Social Constructionist
Dynamic nature of disability: constant changes in the structure and
content of a disability take place during development and under the
influence of Social factors.
Human development is a socio-genetic process carried out in social
Education "leads" development which is the result of social learning
through the internalization of culture and social relationships.
Development is not a straight path of quantitative gains and
accumulations, but a series of qualitative, dialectic transformations,
a complex process of integration and disintegration. Vygotsky
considered disability as a “social aberration” (1993: p 66), informed
from children’s changing social, environmental relations.
Introduced a practice-oriented paradigm for the education of children
with special needs - Dysontogenesis (TD) (Karpov 2005:10).
Concept of primary defects (organic defects), secondary defects
(“cultural consequences of primary defects”), and their interaction - a
disability-specific ‘Zone of proximal development’. Disability is
considered as a socio-cultural developmental phenomenon where
compensation will have to come from socialization and cultural
Vygotsky claimed that the most efficient compensation for the loss or
weakness of natural functions can be achieved through the
development of the higher mental functions - implementation of a
“positive differential approach”.
The development of the individual with a disability is not "sloweddown" or "missing" variations of normal development. "A child
whose development is impeded by a disability is not simply a child
less developed than his peers; rather, he has developed differently."
(Vygotsky, 1983, p. 96).
Theory implies a favourable societal view on children with
disabilities, directing the focus point not on weaknesses and
disorders, but on the strengthening and empowerment of individual
Biomedical Approaches
Sheridan – developmental progress using concrete
cognitive, social and physical norms.
Traditionally, a child with a disability has been considered
to be either "underdeveloped/developmentally delayed“.
According to this model, disability is identified with illness
or impairment. From this perspective, in order to
understand a disability, the background and health
conditions must be understood as the disability is part of
what is 'wrong' with the person. Under this definition, this
medical condition resides entirely with the individual and
is considered unchanging across cultures.
The difference between a child with a disability and
his/her non-disabled peer is only quantitative.
Critique of Theories
Theories of development as normative frameworks.
Societal expectations regarding 'typicality' and normality
which have an impact on how professionals identify and
respond to atypical developmental patterns.
Identified boundaries of deviation from developmental
norms – different and ‘sub-normal’.
Lubeck (1996) Over-simplification fails to deal with the
diversity of children’s development. Pecheux (1999)
predictive ‘developmental timescales’ are too inequitable
and can not be applied to minority groups.
Hauser-Cram (2001) Social diversity of human
development rather than biological universality.
Children as ‘incomplete-adults’. The perceived
cognitive norms and competences of adulthood
define the norms of child development. Supports
notion that children with disabilities are ‘failing’ to
be autonomous adult citizens that modern
society requires in the workforce.
Labelling theory – Learning difficulties,
developmental disability – incomplete people.
Correction of biological and cognitive
characteristics of children. The Social Model
encourages us to improve Social structures and
institutions this ‘dis-able’ the individual.
Social responses to childhood in contemporary
society need to be more flexible to the diversity
of human development (Preistly, 2003).
Moving to an Ecological approach
in Cognitive Development.
This theory looks at a child’s development within the context of the
system of relationships that form his or her environment.
Bronfenbrenner’s theory defines complex “layers” of environment,
each having an effect on a child’s development.
“Bioecological systems theory” to emphasize that a child’s own
biology is a primary environment fuelling her development. The
interaction between factors in the child’s maturing biology, his
immediate family/community environment, and the societal
landscape fuels and steers his development.
Changes or conflict in any one layer will ripple throughout other
layers. To study a child’s development then, we must look not only at
the child and her immediate environment, but also at the interaction
of the larger environment as well.
Ecological Model
Existentialism and Development
Existentialism – focuses on the whole
structure of personal and inter-personal
being and the necessity to encourage
freedom and responsibility.
Potential for growth.
Uniqueness of the individual
Maslow, Rogers
Final Thoughts
Ecological and Existential approaches to development incorporate
the concepts of the Social Model of Disability - “It is society that
disables us, not our impairments.”
The social model of disability represents a challenge to traditional
thinking about social and cognitive development. It has the potential
to transform policies and practice as well as the lives of people who
live with a disability. However, too-easy acceptance of the new
disability paradigm may even be counterproductive: by being so
easy it runs the risk of ignoring how negative assumptions and
attitudes about disability (held by both disabled and non-disabled
people) are so deeply ingrained and continually reinforced.
Require a genuine awareness of the unequal power relationships
that define developmental understanding and theory, and its
relationship with disability, gender and ethnicity.

Atypical Cognitive and Social Development