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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Neurodevelopmental disorders

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Recent technological advances allow us to measure how the infant brain functions in ways that were not possible just a decade ago. Although methodological advances are exciting, we must also consider how theories guide research: what we look for and how we explain what we find. Indeed, the ways in which research findings are interpreted affects the design of policies, educational practices, and interventions. Thus, the theoretical approaches adopted by scientists have a real impact on the lives of children with neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs) and their families, as well as on the wider community. Here, we introduce and compare two theoretical approaches that are used to understand NDDs: the neuropsychological account and neuroconstructivism. We show how the former, adult account, is inadequate for explaining NDDs and illustrate this using the examples of Williams syndrome and specific language impairment. Neuroconstructivism, by contrast, focuses on the developing organism and is helping to change the way in which NDDs are investigated. Whereas neuropsychological static approaches assume that one or more ‘modules’ (e.g., visuospatial ability in Williams syndrome) are impaired while the rest of the system is spared (e.g., language in Williams syndrome), neuroconstructivism proposes that basic‐level deficits have subtle cascading effects on numerous domains over development. Neuroconstructivism leads researchers to embrace complexity by establishing large research consortia to integrate findings at multiple levels (e.g., genetic, neural, cognitive, environmental) across developmental time. WIREs Cogn Sci 2017, 8:e1398. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1398

This article is categorized under:

  • Neuroscience > Development
An infant with Down syndrome wearing a cap that records electrical activity in the brain. Electroencephalography (EEG) is one of the most commonly used methods to measure brain responses in infants.
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Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data showing the neural response to faces in 10–12‐year‐olds and adults. Children show more distributed and bilateral activation than adults. The colored bar to the left represents the percent increase in intensity of activation in the experimental task, as compared to the control task. Note that according to the radiological convention the left side of the brain represents the right hemisphere (RH), and the right side of the brain represents the left hemisphere (LH). (Reprinted with permission from Ref . Copyright 2003 John Wiley and Sons; modified)
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This figure compares the spatial and temporal resolution of different methods used to measure brain activity in infants. It also illustrates the relative degree of tolerance needed from the infant for each method, ranging from yellow (low) to red (high). EEG, electroencephalography; ERP, event‐related potential; MEG, magnetoencephalography; NIRS, near infrared spectroscopy; fMRI, functional magnetic resonance imaging; DTI, diffusion tensor imaging; PET, positron emission tomography. (Reprinted with permission from Ref . Copyright 2010 Elsevier)
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