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child development
A girl sits opposite her teacher

Here we introduce some 'starters' for key debates in the area of child development. Explore at least one of the issues in depth.

For the issues you select, identify and read seven key texts (eg articles, book chapters, books, etc.) relating to the topic in question. Create an information sheet for colleagues on the topic. Under the topic heading, first write an introductory paragraph explaining how the issue is important for your setting. Then, using the text references as headings, summarise the important messages from each. Make the sheet available through the intranet or school library.

Sensitive periods of development

A corollary to this principle [of the child as an active learner] is that there are certain periods during early development when experiences have a more significant effect than others. These periods, called sensitive or critical periods, are thought of as windows of opportunity during which certain types of experience have a foundational effect upon the development of skills
or competencies.

Fox and Rutter, 2010

Consider 'critical periods' and 'sensitive periods'.

What implications does this have for the learning of children with SLD/PMLD/CLDD?

The nature/nurture debate
A girl and her teacher at a table with various
                  colourful kitchen-related objects

Data from [twin] studies provided estimates of heritability of specific human personality traits or cognitive processes and, at the same time, attempted to model the effects of shared and non-shared experience on the developing child. This work has been useful in maintaining a voice in the debate
as to whether development was more influenced by 'nature' versus nurture... however... this...may no longer be valid.

Fox and Rutter, 2010

Consider how genes and environment interact.
Comment on the nature/nurture debate in relation to your findings.

Ages, stages and trajectories
A boy sits before a tray of food items and
                  turns to the camera

Concepts of development have historically favored linear progressions that oversimplify and tend to homogenize development... In contrast to these linear models, we
propose that a person develops along a web of multiple strands and that different people develop along different pathways or webs.

Ayoub and Fischer, 2006

Consider the different models of developmental progression.

A girl looks at a card

Neuroconstructivism strongly emphasizes the interrelation between brain development and cognitive development. We see constructivist development as a progressive increase in the complexity of representations with the consequence that new competences can develop based on earlier simpler ones. This increase in representational complexity is realised in the brain by a progressive elaboration of cortical structures.

Mareschal et al, 2007

Consider neuroconstructivism and the implications for our understanding of disability.

Functional and developmental approaches

According to Duchan... proponents of the impairment view 'presume that the communication problem is in the client and that it can be remedied by providing the client with missing knowledge or processing skills'. Thus, following the impairment-based model, children's speech is assessed according to standardized assessment tools. In the social model, 'therapy plans centre around selected life goals and what needs to be done to achieve them'.

McLeod and Beile, 2004

Consider how developmental and functional assessment in a specific area contribute to a holistic programme for children with

The principle of age-appropriateness

The principle of age-appropriateness is commonly assumed to mean activities and approaches commensurate with an individual's chronological age. Dress, furnishing, object selection, and the style of interactions, are all supposed to be age-appropriate, according to many policies. However, when this principle is applied to people with profound intellectual and multiple disabilities... I argue that... the principle contributes to practices that compromise individuals' health, well-being, quality of life, and their human rights.

Forster, 2010

Consider key arguments for and against age appropriateness in relation to children with SLD/PMLD/CLDD.

Risk and resilience
A mother and baby hold

A further area of disagreement concerns the question of the significance of the earliest years of life and whether what happens during this period influences the whole life course.

David et al, 2003

Consider risk, the impact of adversity, and resilience in the developing child.

Find out more (1)
Open book

Ayoub, C.C. and Fischer, K.W. (2006) Developmental pathways and intersections among domains of development. In: K. McCartney and D. Phillips (eds) Handbook of Early Child Development. Oxford: Blackwell.

David, T., Goouch, K., Powell, S. and Abbott, L. (2003) Birth to Three Matters: A review of the literature. Annesley: Department for Education and Skills.

Elsabbagh, M. and Johnson, M.H. (2009) Getting answers from babies about autism, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 14 (2), 81-87.

Fox, N.A. and Rutter, M. (2010) Introduction to the special section on the effects of early experience on Development, Child Development, 81 (1), 23-27.

Forster, S. (2010) Opinions & Perspectives: Age-appropriateness: enabler or barrier? Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability,
June 2010; 35 (2), 129-131.

Find out more (2)
Open book

Mareschal, D., Johnson, M.H., Sirois, S., Spratling, M.W., Thomas, M.S.C. and Westermann, G. (2007) Neuroconstructivism: How the brain constructs cognition (vol. 1). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McLeod, S. and Bleile, K. (2004) The ICF: a framework for setting goals for children with speech impairment, Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 20 (3), 199-219.

Perry, B.D. (2002) Childhood experience and the expression of genetic potential: what childhood neglect tells us about nature and nurture, Brain and Mind, 3, 79-100.

Westermann, G., Thomas, M.S.C. and Karmiloff-Smith, A. (2010) Neuroconstructivism.
In: U. Goswami (ed.) The Handbook of Cognitive Development (2nd edn). Oxford: Blackwell.

Wilczenski, F.L., Bontrager, T. and Ferraro, B. (2002) Measuring functional independence of students with severe disabilities: issues and methods, Assessment for Effective Intervention, 28 (1), 31-38.