Saturday, June 11, 2011

The stages of Cognitive Development and what happens with Autism

Stages of Cognitve Development In Children and Teenagers

Until around the age of 15 years of age, children do not have the capabilities of reasoning in the way adults do. Jean Piaget is a well known developmental biologist who devoted his life to closely observing and recording the intellectual abilities of infants, children and adolescents.
Piaget formulated fours stages of inlellectual/cognitive development related to the major developments in the growth of the brain. The brain does not fully devolop until between the late teens to early twenties, in the case of some males. Often it is expected that children think like adults but they are not capable of doing this.
The following information was taken from - Formal Operational Stage of Cognitive Development

Piaget's Stages of Cognitive Development
The first stage of Piaget’s theory lasts from birth to approximately age two and is centered on the infant trying to make sense of the world. During the sensorimotor stage, an infant’s knowledge of the world is limited to their sensory perceptions and motor activities. Behaviors are limited to simple motor responses caused by sensory stimuli. Children utilize skills and abilities they were born with, such as looking, sucking, grasping, and listening, to learn more about the environment.

Object Permanence:

According to Piaget, the development of object permanence is one of the most important accomplishments at the sensorimotor stage of development. Object permanence is a child's understanding that objects continue to exist even though they cannot be seen or heard.

Substages of the Sensorimotor Stage:

The sensorimotor stage can be divided into six separate substages that are characterized by the development of a new skill.

Reflexes (0-1 month):

During this substage, the child understands the environment purely through inborn reflexes such as sucking and looking.

Primary Circular Reactions (1-4 months):

This substage involves coordinating sensation and new schemas. For example, a child may such his or her thumb by accident and then later intentionally repeat the action. These actions are repeated because the infant finds them pleasurable.

Secondary Circular Reactions (4-8 months):

During this substage, the child becomes more focused on the world and begins to intentionally repeat an action in order to trigger a response in the environment. For example, a child will purposefully pick up a toy in order to put it in his or her mouth.

Coordination of Reactions (8-12 months):

During this substage, the child starts to show clearly intentional actions. The child may also combine schemas in order to achieve a desired effect. Children begin exploring the environment around them and will often imitate the observed behavior of others. The understanding of objects also begins during this time and children begin to recognize certain objects as having specific qualities. For example, a child might realize that a rattle will make a sound when shaken.

Tertiary Circular Reactions (12-18 months):

Children begin a period of trial-and-error experimentation during the fifth substage. For example, a child may try out different sounds or actions as a way of getting attention from a caregiver.

Early Representational Thought (18-24 months):

Children begin to develop symbols to represent events or objects in the world in the final sensorimotor substage. During this time, children begin to move towards understanding the world through mental operations rather than purely through actions.

The Preoperational Stage

The preoperational stage occurs between ages two and six. Language development is one of the hallmarks of this period. Piaget noted that children in this stage do not yet understand concrete logic, cannot mentally manipulate information, and are unable to take the point of view of other people, which he termed egocentrism.

During the preoperational stage, children also become increasingly adept at using symbols, as evidenced by the increase in playing and pretending. For example, a child is able to use an object to represent something else, such as pretending a broom is a horse. Role playing also becomes important during the preoperational stage. Children often play the roles of "mommy," "daddy," "doctor" and many others.


Piaget used a number of creative and clever techniques to study the mental abilities of children. One of the famous techniques egocentrism involved using a three-dimensional display of a mountain scene. Children are asked to choose a picture that showed the scene they had observed. Most children are able to do this with little difficulty. Next, children are asked to select a picture showing what someone else would have observed when looking at the mountain from a different viewpoint.
Invariably, children almost always choose the scene showing their own view of the mountain scene. According to Piaget, children experience this difficulty because they are unable to take on another person's perspective.


Another well-known experiment involves demonstrating a child's understanding of conservation. In one conservation experiment, equal amounts of liquid are poured into two identical containers. The liquid in one container is then poured into a different shaped cup, such as a tall and thin cup, or a short and wide cup. Children are then asked which cup holds the most liquid. Despite seeing that the liquid amounts were equal, children almost always choose the cup that appears fuller.
Piaget conducted a number of similar experiments on conservation of number, length, mass, weight, volume, and quantity. Piaget found that few children showed any understanding of conservation prior to the age of five.

The concrete operational stage begins around age seven and continues until approximately age eleven. During this time, children gain a better understanding of mental operations. Children begin thinking logically about concrete events, but have difficulty understanding abstract or hypothetical concepts.


Piaget determine6uewd that children in the concrete operational stage were fairly good at the use of inductive logic. Inductive logic involves going from a specific experience to a general principle. On the other hand, children at this age have difficulty using deductive logic, which involves using a general principle to determine the outcome of a specific event.


One of the most important developments in this stage is an understanding of reversibility, or awareness that actions can be reversed. An example of this is being able to reverse the order of relationships between mental categories. For example, a child might be able to recognize that his or her dog is a Labrador, that a Labrador is a dog, and that a dog is an animal.

The formal operational stage begins at approximately age twelve to and lasts into adulthood. During this time, people develop the ability to think about abstract concepts. Skills such as logical thought, deductive reasoning, and systematic planning also emerge during this stage.


Piaget believed that deductive logic becomes important during the formal operational stage. Deductive logic requires the ability to use a general principle to determine a specific outcome. This type of thinking involves hypothetical situations and is often required in science and mathematics.

Abstract Thought:

While children tend to think very concretely and specifically in earlier stages, the ability to think about abstract concepts emerges during the formal operational stage. Instead of relying solely on previous experiences, children begin to consider possible outcomes and consequences of actions. This type of thinking is important in long-term planning.


In earlier stages, children used trial-and-error to solve problems. During the formal operational stage, the ability to systematically solve a problem in a logical and methodical way emerges. Children at the formal operational stage of cognitive development are often able to quickly plan an organized approach to solving a problem.

The following information is taken from Raising Children.

Cognitive Development and Autism

Brain development
In children with ASD, the brain develops differently from typically developing children:
The brain tends to grow too fast during early childhood, especially during the first three years of life.
The brain of an infant with ASD appears to have more cells than it needs, as well as inefficient connections between the cells.

Too many connections
It’s thought that the characteristic behaviours of autism come from difficulties with how the brain processes information (especially if the affected areas of the brain are those responsible for understanding emotions and language). A young child’s brain is developing all the time. Every time a child does something or responds to something, connections in the brain are reinforced and become stronger. Over time, the connections that aren’t reinforced disappear – they are ‘pruned’ away as they’re not needed. This ‘pruning’ is how the brain makes room for important connections – those needed for everyday actions and responses. It’s thought that, in children with ASD, this pruning doesn’t take place as much as it should – so information might be lost or sent through the wrong connections.
The lack of pruning might also explain why the brain seems to be growing faster than in typical

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