Normative Development

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In the latter part of the 19th century, psychology began to separate from its previous philosophical standing, emerging more as a scientific discipline. Abstract laws were devised, and objective and quantitative measurements of isolated variables analysed. Theories of development emerged and have continued throughout history, providing organization, and “a lens through which researchers can interpret and explain any number of specific facts or observations” (Sigelman & Rider, 2012, p. 32). In postulating what is seen as ‘normative’ development, these theories provide a model or map from which science and society are largely influenced. Normative development implies an individual will grow, experience and behave in a similar manner to the general population throughout life (Sigelman & Rider, 2012). It infers a degree of commonality between humans, and of a comparable progression through a lifespan. Given all individuals experience life differently, the concept of normative development is arguable. In this paper, the author will examine a number of developmental theories substantiating the claim that normative development can exist. It will be argued however, that this claim is supported best when seen through the integration of a number of models, rather than one model in isolation. Norms should also be applied over a range rather than set circumstance, and seen as evolving, rather than unchanging. Prior to examining what may be considered normative development, it is first necessary to examine the notion of ‘normal’. Definitions of normal are diverse, but commonly include the notion of conforming to typical standards or regulations (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). That being so, what is typical? And who determines standards or regulations? In reality, normal is a social construct that fits into a time frame; there is no definitive answer to what is normal, or even abnormal. Sigelman & Rider (2012) highlight the difficulties in drawing a line between the two terms developmentally, suggesting the conception of what is considered normal or abnormal is gauged through statistical data, maladaptiveness and personal distress. Historically, the gravity of the concept has moved. What was previously considered abnormal is today understood as a disorder, or perhaps simply a unique perspective. Given this shift in clarity, Kramer (2009) suggests redefining normal “to include broad ranges of difference” (p. 3). Peterson (2010) suggests that whilst some developmental changes over a lifespan are individual and random, others are predictable and can be forecast with reasonable accuracy. What is described as normative, or normal and healthy development makes use of predictable transitions and challenges that humans face over a lifespan. Normative development is therefore seen as a universally generalizable change, or as “what ought to be” (Smith & Voneche, 2006. p. 3). In consideration of suggestions proposed by Smith & Voneche (2006) and Kramer (2009), normative development could be more appropriately explained as what ought to be, over a broad range of differences. Development is defined as “systematic changes and continuities in the individual that occur between conception and death” (Sigelman & Rider, 2012. p. 2). Changes are permanent, qualitative, generalizable and work to progressively improve an individual’s performance. A developmental theory attempts to explain the mechanism of change over time in the milieu of physical, psychological, cognitive, behavioural or social dimensions. Miller (2011) suggests “a theory gives meaning to facts, provides a framework for facts, assigns more importance to some facts than others, and integrates existing facts” (p. 11). Whilst some theories are very specific and time limited, others endeavour to explain developmental change integrating several core fields across the lifespan. Peterson (2010) highlights theories as explaining developmental changes...
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