Understanding Child Development
Understanding developmental learning styles is essential for developing effective educational programming. Jean Piaget's theories of cognitive development help us as educators understand how individuals move and evolve through different stages of development in our lifespan.
Development typically progresses in a predictable, sequential manner. This development occurs through biological maturation and environmental experience.
Knowing where students fall within these stages of development helps educators understand how children generate solutions to problems they encounter and make sense of the world around them. In a sense, it helps us understand how they reason, problem solve, and make sense of their experiences.
Just like children develop physically at their own pace, so too does their cognitive and language development. Development cannot be taught or artificially rushed. Failure to account for a student's developmental level in educational and behavioral programming can have serious implications as well as unintended results.
Understanding Developmental Delays
Students with intellectual disabilities or other developmental delays do not meet these milestones along the same predictable manner. Their development is delayed and may result in the student never acquiring particular abilities or acquiring them significantly later than their same age peers.
As such, students with intellectual disabilities and developmental delays are especially susceptible to inappropriate/mismatched programming as they may be tasked to use skills they may have not yet acquired.
Skills that might be missing or need to be supported include speech and language skills, including social communication, social skills, self-regulation skills, and executive functioning skills.
Additionally, even if students have acquired particular skills, they may not be able to use them when they are anxious, confused, stressed, or even excited as these heightened or dysregulated states make it difficult to access their cognitive potential and often result in a further reduced level of reasoning.
Understanding behavior from a developmental perspective can help educators understand the reason for the behavior and how to help support the student and potentially change the behavior.
It will be essential that curricular, communication, and behavioral programming reflect each student's unique strengths and needs, and that all activities and tasks appropriately match their developmental level.