A Dynamic Approach to Developmental Disorders

Before working with Jean Piaget, Annette Karmiloff-Smith was a conference interpreter who thought psychology was just about reaction time and questionnaires.

“Piaget made me discover that [psychology] was about everything from logic to epistemology, philosophy, science, and absolutely every topic seemed to come into psychology,” says Karmiloff-Smith. “I got really enthusiastic.”

Now Karmiloff-Smith is a professorial research fellow at the Developmental Neurocognition Lab at Birkbeck, University of London. She is an expert on developmental disorders, specifically Williams Syndrome — a rare genetic disorder characterized by moderate learning difficulties and a distinctive facial appearance.

Coming a long way since her early work with Piaget, Karmiloff-Smith has proposed a dynamic model for neurodevelopmental disorders. Using a static model (in which researchers look for parts of the brain that are damaged compared to a normal brain), she argues, is inappropriate for developmental disorders. Because deficits arise during development before children’s brains have formed specialized domains, Karmiloff-Smith has shown through her Williams Syndrome research that the impairments in these disorders can be linked to multiple domains.

At the APS 24th Annual Convention in Chicago, Karmiloff-Smith will be speaking will be speaking about how double dissociation can be demonstrated between two developmental syndromes. “I’ll unpick that” says Karmiloff-Smith “and show how the same data can be analyzed in a totally different way showing that [the disorders] have very common starting points, and that they diverge over time, and that it’s not a double dissociation but very low level impairments that give rise to changes over time.”

Annette Karmiloff-Smith (Birkbeck, University of London, United Kingdom) will be speaking as part of the theme program Biological Beings in Social Context at the at the 24th APS Annual Convention in Chicago, Illinois, USA.


Question 1: How did you become interested in psychological science?

Question 2: How did working with Jean Piaget shape your current views of child development?

Question 3: Why is it important to study child development?

Question 4: What developmental disorders do you specialize in?

Question 5:  What topics are you currently researching?

Question 6: What will you be speaking on at the 24th APS Annual Convention?

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