Atypical Development – Diagnosis and Classification

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How do we define normal? Normality and abnormality is based upon subjective judgement. Views of abnormality differ between individuals and cultures. When does somebody stop being merely eccentric and become mentally ill? Judging mental illness is difficult because it relies upon sound judgement and extensive research into cultural variations in behaviour patterns. We should also consider that psychology deals with individuals and everyone is different. If it is so difficult to define ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ then how can it be classified and diagnosed objectively? Abnormal is defined as a deviation from what is normal or usual. What is considered normal? Normal is considered as acting within a previously measured standard. How is the standard measured? There are different ways to define ‘normal/abnormal’ and there are different definitions that help us along the way, Deviation from statistical norms, social norms, ideal mental health and failure to function adequately. Deviation from statistical norms describes a method that uses the population to gather its evidence. This technique analyses data collected from a varied range of people and highlights rare, un-typical behaviour, which is then labelled abnormal. For behaviour to be labelled normal from a statistical point of view, it needs to be average behaviour performed by the population in question. This is why labelling behaviours between cultures and places is challenging, as they have different standards and morals. It is assumed that personality traits and behaviour can be placed into normal distribution patterns with most people not straying far from average. For example; intelligence (IQ) can be plotted on a normal distribution curve which would show there are very few remarkably high or low scores. IQ is a good example of this ‘abnormality’ not necessarily being bad. ‘Normal’ IQ is around 100 on the distribution curve. However, Albert Einstein (IQ 160) and Sir Isaac Newton (IQ 190) have a high IQ which is regarded as a good thing. “Being a genius is very rare, is usually regarded as highly desirable, and few, if any, would see it as a psychological disorder” (Haralambas 2002). While this seems a good way to measure an ‘abnormality’, there are some things that are not taken into account. It disregards the desirability of a behaviour, for example IQ. Behaviours are more likely to be considered abnormal if they are undesirable. It also fails to identify how far an individual must deviate before being labelled abnormal. Another criticism is that within all societies there are large numbers of people who display undesirable behaviour, if all those people were placed into one category then over 50% of the population would have to be included, this would then make them ‘normal’ in a statistical sense. One last criticism of the statistical approach is that it does not consider the influence of an individual’s behaviour on others. Deviation from social norms is when a person does not act as society deems acceptable. Every society has a set of rules based upon moral standards, some are clear-cut and to ignore those means you are breaking the law, e.g. stealing. Other rules are social, wearing the correct clothes for the occasion. This approach suggests you can label ‘normal’ or ‘abnormal’ using certain standards of social behaviour. Some behaviour is not only acceptable in society, but expected in particular circumstances. Most people are aware of these ‘rules’ and conform their behaviour accordingly. Individuals who do not conform are seen as ‘abnormal’ or mentally ill. This approach takes into consideration the impact of an individual’s behaviour upon others. Like other definitions, this one is bound by culture and society. An example of this would be sitting quietly in a library, or showing grief at a funeral. According to this, ‘abnormality’ is a deviation away from the pattern of desirable behaviour. An individual with schizophrenia may laugh at a funeral which would...
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