Cognitive Development Theory for Kids With Disabilities

Disabilities that don't directly affect brain function might interfere with a child's ability to learn. This can affect cognitive development, especially if the disability is not diagnosed early. Parents are in the best position to understand what each child's strengths and needs are. Parents and schools should work together to create an effective Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that addresses the child's special needs and gives access to the full education guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Vision Impairment

Without sight, children use hearing to detect objects at a distance. Children don't motivate to sound as quickly as to sight, however, so skills such as object permanence and the understanding of cause and effect are delayed. Vision-impaired children have difficulty organizing objects since they are unable to see the relationships. The sound of a meow, the softness of fur and the pain of a scratch are three separate concepts rather than a single cat.

Hearing Impairment

A boy puts a cake in the cupboard. Later his father moves the cake to the refrigerator. The boy comes back to eat the cake. Where does he look? A very young child presented with this problem will say the boy looks in the refrigerator because that's where the cake is. An older child will understand that, regardless of the cake's actual location, the boy thinks it's in the cupboard and will look there. That ability to predict someone's actions based on that person's knowledge of the situation rather than our own is called the Theory of Mind. An article in "The ASHA Leader," the newsletter of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, explains that children with hearing impairments have significant delays in developing the Theory of Mind, due in part to delayed language skills, which in turn inhibits their ability to understand stories and develop social interactions 2. Children with hearing impairments also tend to develop substantially lower reading abilities than their hearing peers.

Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism and related disorders cover such a wide range of capabilities that it is difficult to classify their cognitive abilities as a group, but there are some common factors. Many people with autism struggle with visual and verbal communication, which affects the bulk of learning. They may also experience difficulties shifting attention and problems with over- or under-stimulation of senses that will interfere with their ability to absorb new information.

Cerebral Palsy

On its surface cerebral palsy only affects motor skills and not cognition. The damage that caused CP, though, may also have an effect on executive function, memory and other cognitive abilities. These children may have concurrent neurological problems that affect cognition and learning. In addition, the symptoms of CP can interfere with learning. Children with CP often have visual difficulties caused by muscle imbalances or optic nerve damage that can give them problems similar to other visually impaired children. Poor muscle control can create speech difficulties, making it hard for the child to ask questions. They may also have trouble socially interacting with their peers and learning as part of a group.