Cognitive Development of Young Typical and
Special Needs Children
for Mental Health Professionals
Warren Umansky, PhD
This course meets the qualifications for 4 hours of continuing education
Course materials © Warren Umansky, Ph.D. All rights reserved.
The difference between the professional and the technician is a critical one. The technician does; the professional prescribes and clearly understands the reasons for the strategies that are prescribed for others to implement or that he or she uses. This function of the professional is a valuable one for a number of reasons:
Therapeutic strategies and educational interventions should be evidence-based. That is, there should be a reputable body of research to support what is used with clients. The mental health professional should be familiar with the literature in early cognitive development, for example, and should structure therapeutic approaches consistent with that literature.
When asked to explain or justify strategies, techniques, and interventions to other professionals regarding the cognitive development of young children, the mental health professional should utilize his or her knowledge of developmental theory and evidence-based best practice.
The knowledgeable mental health professional can explain to parents, in understandable terms free of jargon, about the cognitive development of young typical children and those with special needs. The explanation is based on knowledge of the literature and on clinical experience and includes why certain child behaviors appear or don’t appear at given times and why certain strategies and interventions are used.
The knowledgeable mental health professional should take available opportunities to make presentations at meetings and conferences to expand the learning of colleagues about the cognitive development of young children. Presentations should be founded on accepted theories of cognitive development and evidence-based approaches. The knowledgeable mental health professional also may be called upon to serve as a consultant to early intervention programs and collaborate effectively with early intervention staff.
For these reasons, this course was developed to provide the mental health professional with an understanding of how cognition develops in young children. A number of theories are presented that help explain this amazingly complex journey. When a child has a disability, its impact on cognition can be subtle or dramatic. The factors that contribute to different levels of cognitive competence are discussed regarding typical children and those with a variety of special needs. By understanding how a child’s overt behaviors reflect the unfolding of mental processes, one is better able to interpret a child’s performance and, thereby, plan a developmentally appropriate therapeutic program. The chapter concludes with suggestions and principles for providing experiences to children to facilitate cognitive development in a variety of clinical and educational settings. The terms interventionist, clinician, and therapist are used interchangeably to reflect the many settings in which these children are seen and the variety of professionals who work with young children who are developmentally challenged.
To the casual observer of a 4-year-old child hard at play, the intensity and variety of the child’s behavior is mystifying. Objects seem to take on life, simple problems evoke interesting attempts at solutions, and newly discovered skills are repeated and applied in different ways. The newborn presents quite another picture—that of a child whose day is spent mostly asleep, whose movements appear to be spontaneous and random, and whose communication repertoire consists only of crying and silence.
The transitions that occur in the typical child during the early years are as exciting to behold as a well-performed ballet is. The acquisition and refinement of skills are evidence that the higher levels of the brain are establishing control and that the child is developing into a cognitive being.
Cognition is difficult to define other than in terms of the many processes it comprises. The word describes mental activity and other behaviors that allow us to understand and participate in events around us. Fundamental to cognitive development is a person’s ability to translate objects and events into a symbolic form that can be stored in the brain. The developing thinker is able to store increasingly complex and abstract information, and is able to manipulate the information in a variety of ways. The facility of a child to acquire, store, and manipulate information also is intimately related to development of language, social competence, and purposeful motor skills. For this reason, children who score low on intelligence tests that purport to measure levels of cognition frequently show delays in other areas of development as well.
the diversity of Cognitive Skills
We receive information through five senses: vision, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. Relating that information to what we have accumulated from past experiences is called perception. Perception, then, is sensation with meaning. At yet a higher level of cognitive development, logical thought (the ability to use meaningful information to make decisions and solve problems) emerges. This marks the appearance of conceptual skills.
In this 4 unit course clinicians will:
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Warren Umansky, Ph.D., is a Child Development Specialist in private practice and a school counselor. He has written extensively on child development and special needs topics. His most recent books are ADHD: Helping your child (Warner Books) and Young children with special needs (Merrill Prentice-Hall) for which he currently is working on the fifth edition. He also has developed multimedia programs on ADHD, behavior management, and toilet training, and has published numerous journal articles in scientific and refereed journals.
Dr. Umansky has been a consultant for McNeil Pharmaceuticals and for child care programs, hospitals, and school systems throughout the United States. He is beginning work on another book on ADHD and on a series of children’s books focusing on character education. He lives in Augusta, Georgia with his wife and three children.
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