PSY 104: Child and Adolescent Development

Week 4 - Instructor Guidance


Among other things, we will be taking a look at Learning Disabilities in this section of the class!

Learning Outcomes

This week students will:

  • Discriminate between the fundamental components of Piaget, Vygotsky, and Interactionist theories.
  • Expound on the factors affecting learning.
  • Summarize the most common learning disabilities in childhood and adolescence.


In this section you will find my own thoughts and teaching on the subject matter. This does not substitute for the assigned and suggested course readings and other materials.

The Developing Brain

While most lifespan and human development courses are multidisciplinary, they are usually focused on psychological processes. In this week's work you are asked to link the concepts of PHYSICAL and COGNITIVE development...this is obvious in the expectations of the first discussion described below, but it is also evident in the second discussion where we explore learning disabilities.

Changes in the BRAIN result in changes in COGNITION which result in BEHAVIOR changes. The issues and problems we face often surface when our development is out of sync with the cultural or environmental expectations of our behavior.

Click HERE to view a PBS Frontline article on Inside the Teenage Brain

Click HERE to download a PDF copy of a presentation on Teenage Brain Development and Sexual Decision Making
Click HERE to download the original PowerPoint presentation

For example: An adolescent who acts impulsively and takes foolish risks does so in part because there are changes going on in their developing brain that may lead to this sort of decision making.

Another example might entail physical abnormalities in the brain (or brain chemistry) that make specific cognitive tasks challenging for some children despite being "normal" in all other respects.

The Dana Foundation

One of my favorite sources for "all things brain" is the Dana Foundation. This organization publishes all sorts of FREE information on the brain and brain research. You can even subscribe to their free newsletter "Brain in the News" which highlights the latest brain research in an easy-to-read, newspaper-like format.

Click HERE to visit the Dana Foundation website

This is also a very neat place to go for some easy-to-find peer reviewed articles!

Learning Disabilities

The first think I want to say about Learning Disabilities is that they are relatively misunderstood. Here is a lot of what we know:

  • Learning disabilities occur among individuals with normal fact, that is how a Learning Disability is defined...a significant lack of achievement in a specific area in an otherwise normally intelligent person (if the person had an abnormal intelligence we could called it a "Developmental Disability"
  • Learning disabilities involve specific areas of the brain and may be linked to abnormal brain structure and/or chemistry
  • Learning disabilities impact, as the name implies, learning...they may not impact other areas of life (though they often do)
  • They are often not identified until the child enters a competitive learning environment (school)
  • They are relatively over-diagnosed
  • We misunderstand then and are often left with questions as to what to DO about the disability...sadly we have often resorted to ineffective approaches such as simple accommodations (extra time) or silly recommendations (just try harder).
  • Environmental and behavioral modifications can have a tremendous impact on outcomes.

Click HERE to visit the National Center for Learning Disabilities

This site contains lots of excellent information for parents of kids with LD and for adults with LD. A lot of the site is dedicated to debunking myths and "miracle cures" for LD. Essential reading!


Mark's Soapbox

My thoughts on learning disabilities come mostly from dealing with adults with LD in my classrooms.

The sad reality is that those with ANY disability often do have to work harder to achieve the same results as their peers. This makes for excellent work-ethic and accomplishment but it can also lead to a sense of defeatism and "learned helplessness". One of the most devastating impacts of this is for the person with the LD to assume that ALL academic challenges that they experience are due to the LD. This is not the case. Some academic tasks are challenging in and of themselves regardless of the presence of an LD.

Over time this can lead to a perception of "If it is hard for me to do it is because of my learning disability and therefore I can't do it"

To battle this we need to do a couple things:

  • Temper our students for real feedback on their performance (no more "good job" for poor order for anyone to advance they need to have accurate knowledge of and feedback on their performance.
  • We need to encourage kids to take academic risks, to try new things, and to test themselves.
  • We need to educate teachers and students that LD is largely misunderstood and that the solution is going to be as unique as they are...we simply don't understand the brain as much as we need to.
  • Behavior and time management are critical for everyone, but MORE critical for individuals with LD. It DOES take more work so you have to schedule more time (for studying, not only for the test!) and you need to be on a reward system to maintain the pace of this behavior.


In this section you will find any specific instructions or ideas I may have for you to support your graded work. Please read the instructions for each task in the course as well as the information I have here.

Discussion - Research Perspective

In this discussion you have options as to what to focus on:

Option 1

Does child psychological development follow the same path as child physical development?  Include citations from at least two scholarly sources to support your discussion.

    • Although this is stated as a "yes" or "no" question, the implication is that you will be able to provide some examples of this from the literature (yes, PEER REVIEWED articles or substantive and reliable websites)
    • The key here is to look for interactions between psychological processes and physical essence, showing how they are linked.


In very early development Piaget ( identified the first cognitive stage of "Sensory-Motor". For Piaget, this was the stage where children were learning integrate sensory and motor movement. This can be typified by the interactions that small children have with crib toys such as mobiles and "activity centers" that mount to the side of the crib.

Although this reference is a bit old, Weinberg, Fletcher, and Gan (1998) researched an enriched infant environment called "The BabySense Environment" and it's impact upon cognitive development. The objects in the environment attracted infant perception and encouraged interaction with objects in order to foster cognitive development. Objects in the environment included a foam pad and various objects. (In this study some of the objects in one crib triggered actions and motions in another crib thus allowing small infants to interact with each other!)

In this study it is clear that a child's ability to move about and interact with objects in his or her environment is critical in the development of cognitive abilities.

According to Piaget, this interaction with objects is the fundamental cognitive process of creating schemas, or psychological representations, of real-world objects. This would be an instance in which cognitive and physical development processes are hand in hand.


Weinberg, G., Fletcher, R., & Gan, S.L. (1998). The baby sense environment: Enriching and monitoring infants' experiences and communication. CHI '98. Conference Summary on Human Factors in Computing Systems. 325-326

Option 2

Does adolescent psychological development follow the same path as adolescent physical development?  Include citations from at least two scholarly sources to support your discussion.

    • Although this is stated as a "yes" or "no" question, the implication is that you will be able to provide some examples of this from the literature (yes, PEER REVIEWED articles or substantive and reliable websites)
    • The key here is to look for interactions between psychological processes and physical essence, showing how they are linked.


Among adolescence we tend to see, and expect, fundamental changes in their cognitive processing. Much of this, it turns out, has to do with brain development.

According to Konrad, Firk, and Uhlhaas (2013), "fundamental reorganization of the brain takes place in adolescence...there is an imbalance during adolescence between the more mature subcortical areas and less mature prefrontal areas. This may account for typical adolescent behavior patterns, including risk-taking".

In this case we see that there is a relationship between physical brain development and specific cognitive fact we see that different rates of development of these brain areas result in some challenging circumstances...such as the "reward" system being more highly developed than the "executive functioning" (decisions making) system. This can lead to adolescent "acting before they think" with occasional tragic consequences.


Konrad, K., Firk, C., and Uhlhaas, P.J. (2013). Brain development during adolescence. Deutsches Aerzteblatt International (translated). 110(25). 425-431.

Discussion - Childhood Learning

In this discussion you are to watch the video on learning disabilities and describe one of the three listed learning disabilities.

Reflect on your experiences and learning related to challenges in learning and whether or not ALL challenges are linked to "disabilities".

(I'm not going to do an example of this one.)