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Social Development and Autism

            Developmental psychology is the study of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that systematically develop during an individual’s lifetime (Goodwin, 2005).  While psychology is still in it’s infancy so is the field of developmental psychology.  However, much research has been conducted in this field with regards to developmental issues, the most prevalent being autism.  Autism has been a major focus of researchers over the past several decades and will continue to be of interest until a predictor, cure, and better understanding occur in this disorder.

            The field of developmental psychology usually includes nature versus nurture, but in the autistic disorder this is not relevant.  What is relevant Is the early experiences and developmental stages of the human individual.  Many believe that humans go through phases or stages.  The critical period is considered the intellectual and sensory experiences that lead to more intrinsic development in the future.  The sensitive periods are important but do not define future development.  The stages can be in steps or continuous and the individual progresses through the stages to gain understanding of society and the world around him.  It is during this process that the autistic person is left behind (Goodwin, 2005; Matson, Matson, Rivet, 2007).

            The initial phase of yearly childhood in which rudimentary social skills are learned, usually by the age of 2 is dwarfed in the autistic child.  Instead of learning the correct way in which to interact, their behavior creates deficits in eye contact, socialization, and speech.  The age of 2 is the best time to intervene with a child that shows signs of autism, however, this intervention does not usually occur until between the ages of 6 and 9 when the child is in school (Matson et al , 2007).

            This same problem occurs when trying to treat the individual with autism.  Of the four most often used treatments, all require some level of cognitive ability that exceeds the limited ability of the preschooler and usually only occur in a school or educational institute setting.  The good part is the fact that through modeling, reinforcement, role-playing, and peer-mediation do show improvements when utilized.  However, the fact is that treatment should definitely begin at a much younger age (Matson, et al, 2007).

            Autism is still widely unknown and misunderstood.  More research needs to be conducted in the behavioral deficits of the autistic person, as well as gaining a better understanding of any discrepancies with in the brain of the individual.  One thing is certain, that with help even low-functioning autistic individual’s can usually gain a little bit of normalcy in their lives.


Goodwin, C. J. (2005). Psychological science in the post-war era. A History of Modern    Psychology. (2nd ed.). New York: John Wiley ; Sons, Inc. pp. 401-434.

Matson, J. L., Matson, M. L., ; Rivet, T. T. (2007, Sept). Social-skills treatments for children with autism spectrum disorders. Behavior Modification. 31(5).  pp. 682-707.  Retrieved March 16, 2009 from

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