Normative Development

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The concept of normative development is a complex and much debated one. It is an issue that is continually researched by scientists and psychologists alike as they seek to understand the changing processes that shape development over the human lifespan. One of the fundamental questions that underlie this research is whether normative development actually exists. The volume of statistical data on normative development is constantly changing and growing adding greater complexity of the issue.

Normative development concerns the typical (normal) capabilities, as well as limitations, of humans of a given age within a given cultural group. It indicates a typical range of what can be expected at a given time. These are generally referred to as developmental milestones to indicate steps in certain abilities that should be reflected at different ages, as determined by supporting research. In this way, normative development is important because it allows us to understand what to expect at different ages (Sigelman and Rider, 2006).

The works of different theoretical viewpoints will be examined, each with differing perspectives on the nature of human development. The degree of variability between these theories brings into question the viability of normative development.

The changes and continuities of human development are examined across three broad areas. These are the physical growth of the body, organs and motor skills; the cognitive abilities such as language, perception and memory; and the psychosocial development, which includes social interactions, personality traits and identity (Sigelman & Rider, 2006).

Human growth, development and aging are guided by a unique genetic program, set into action by the brain and hormones released by the endocrine system. Areas of physical development include brain development, locomotor skills and sensory capabilities. including perception. Developmental phases studied across the lifespan are the infant, from birth to two years, the child from approximately three to twelve years, the adolescent of twelve to eighteen years and finally the adult; young, middle, and elderly. The endocrine system, together with the nervous system, is fundamental to growth during childhood, sexual and physical maturation of the adolescent, performance and aging over the lifespan (Sigelman & Rider, 2006).

Jean Piaget’s Cognitive Development Theory is still widely influential today and remains directly relevant to contemporary theories on child development. Piaget proposed that all children progress through four universal, stage-like phases, and believed development was predominantly biological-based although he did recognize environmental-learned experience. He considered humans to be adaptive and active in their cognitive development, and to construct new understandings through their explorations. These developments are qualitative and replace former strategies at each new stage (Sigelman & Rider, 2006). By arguing these stages were similar and common to all children, Piaget espoused normative development.

Piaget’s first stage, from birth to two years, is the sensorimotor period. Infants explore and discover their world using their innate senses and motor skills, solving problems through experimenting. By constructing organized patterns of thought and action - schemes - they are able to make sense of their world. As children’s knowledge and experiences change, these schemes adapt and change as a result of the ensuing mental conflict and the interpretation of new information. According to Piaget, they learn to construct mental symbols, leading to more purposeful thought and early language, such as babbling and cooing (Sigelman & Rider, 2006).

Infancy is a time when most fundamental capacities emerge and develop and on which the rest of the lifespan is determined, so it is a crucial period. Babies are born with reflexes, sensory and perceptual capabilities and are able to learn through their...
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