Discussion, Week 10: A Deficit or a Difference?
As noted, school settings can be challenging for children and adolescents with a disability thus consideration is given as to whether such a disability is a deficit or a difference. The determination of this could affect the type of intervention(s) and the accommodations available in addition to how the individual is treated by others. The following presents how a disability in childhood or adolescence could be considered a deficit or a difference in terms of developmental trajectory.
Disability: A Deficit or a Difference
Disabilities come in many forms: mental, learning, and physical (Laureate, 2014). Although the effects on the individual may be similar, there remains a distinction between what is deemed to be a learning deficit or a difference in terms of developmental trajectory. People can overcome a learning deficit through remediation such as in academic intervention services (Economic Services Administration, n.d.). Comparatively, a learning disability is not reversible therefore remaining a life-long issue (Economic Services Administration, n.d.). However, accommodation skills and strategies may be put in place to aid in the lessening of the impact of the disability. Such accommodations for children and adolescents are developed into an IEP or Individualized Education Program and are tailored to the individual’s specific needs and goals (U.S. Department of Education, 2019).
The distinctions made between the two will reflect the developmental trajectory. For instance, a student diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD does not imply academic difficulties although impairments in social communication, or restrictive, repetitive, or stereotypical behaviors may be predictive in the individual’s academic achievements (Estes, Rivera, Bryan, Cali, & Dawson, 2011). A developmental deficit by diagnosis, ASD for the child or adolescent could be considered a difference based upon the severity of the deficit thus impacting terms of the developmental trajectory; it would be addressed as a heterogeneous disorder with heterogeneous developmental pathways (Fleury et al., 2014). Subsequently, educators are expected to recognize the cognitive abilities of learners with ASD thereby developing an academic plan which simultaneously targets the specific learning needs of the individual (Fleury et al., 2014).
Regardless of the disability of the child or adolescent, the fostering of an anti-bias and inclusive learning community is integral to the individual’s development (Derman-Sparks & Olsen Edwards, 2010). The developmentally appropriate practice requires the educator to cultivate each individual child’s fullest learning potential, inclusive, and promoting of encouragement, nurturing, and respect. The maintaining of an anti-bias learning community will present equitability for all students despite the consideration of the disability being a deficit or difference or the developmental trajectory.
Derman-Sparks, L., & Olsen Edwards, J. (2010). Anti-bias education for young children and
ourselves. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Economic Services Administration. (2019). Learning disabilities and deficits. Retrieved from
Estes, A., Rivera, V., Bryan, M., Cali, P., Dawson, G. (2011). Discrepancies between academic
achievement and intellectual ability in the higher-functioning school-aged children with
autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 41, 1044–
Fleury, V. P., Hedges, S., Hume, K., Browder, D. M., Thompson, J. L., Fallin, K., … & Vaughn,
S. (2014). Addressing the academic needs of adolescents with autism spectrum disorder in
secondary education. Remedial and Special Education, 35, 68–79.
Development is a process of growth through which children learn skills and abilities that help them to understand and function in their world. The normal trajectory of development enables a child to progress from complete dependency on others to complete independency of his/her needs. Although there is great variability in development, in general the majority of individuals progress within typical limits. However, certain disabilities may cause individuals to move along at a different pace or on a different path.
Research indicates that individuals with disabilities start life with delays and those delays remain constant and consistent as they move through developmental stages (Kritzer, 2012). For example, individuals who are deaf, deafened, or hard of hearing are behind their typical peers in preschool in literacy and math skills due to communication challenges. These deficits continue as they progress into elementary school, middle, and high school. In fact, when they graduate into middle school, their math skills are on average at a second grade, when they graduate to high school their math skills are at a third fourth grade level, and if they graduate from high school, they perform math skills at a sixth grade level (Kritzer 2012).
Another disability that have a different developmental trajectory than typical peers is Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). One area that individuals with ASD develop differently is with their adaptive skills. Specifically, due to difficulties interacting, they have overall adaptive skills that are weaker than individuals with intellectual disabilities, mood disorders, personality disorders, learning disabilities, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (Mouga et al., 2015). The low adaptive skills are present starting at the age of two years of age and the trajectory of these skills is slower than typically developing individuals. In fact, the adaptive skill tend to become more profound and the gap in skill level between those with ASD and typically developing individuals grows (Pathak, Bennett, & Shui, 2017).
Individuals with Intellectual Disability (ID) also have a different developmental trajectory than typically developing individuals. ID usually begins at birth and negatively affects the trajectory of the individual’s physical, intellectual, and/or emotional development (National Institute of Health, 2016). According to Mash & Wolfe (2016), although they follow a similar developmental path as normally functioning peers, they move through the paths at slower pace. Plus, their upper limits are different.
Kritzer, K. L. (2012). The story of an outlier: A case study of one young deaf child and his journey towards early mathematical competence. Deafness and Education International, 14(2), 69–77.
Mash, E. J., & Wolfe, D. A. (2016). Abnormal child psychology (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Mouga, S., Almeida, J., Café’, C., Dugue, F., Oliveira, G., (2015). Adaptive profiles in Autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 45, 1001-1012.