This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 12 table of contents.

Are we all Developmentally Disordered?

In Chapter 2 we encountered the idea that the human brain is modular. The brain has many specialists or expert areas that process different types of information. Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences was based partly on studying people with selective deficits such as those with learning disorders, as well as people with selective talents such as autistic savants.

Why is it important to treat learning disorders early in life?

What happens when a module is underdeveloped? By definition, the result is a developmental disorder. This does not mean there is anything wrong with the brain, and people can sometimes pick up the missing skills if given special training while they are young. Later in life, it may not be so easy. Recall the discussion of flexible versus crystallized learning in Chapter 10. One of the studies summarized there, by Hunt, showed that older people who did not use visual imagery spontaneous were frequently unable to learn how to use it, while college students who did not use it on their own could easily learn how.

In all likelihood, every module of the brain is represented by learning disorders, because for every module, there will be some group of people who do not use it very well. For example:

What are examples of "selective deficits" in otherwise normal people?

A person who is tone deaf cannot reproduce musical melodies.

A person who has poor spatial abilities gets lost or "turned around" easily and has trouble reading maps.

A person with poor number processing abilities struggles over simple math.

A person with poor visual imagery cannot form a picture or design in the mind's eye, even when this is the easiest way to solve a problem.

People who are smart in other ways may lack social intelligence needed to get along well in group situations or make others like them.

Second language learning may be a specific gift that some people have in abundance, others lack altogether. (I could tell you some stories about that one; several of my relatives are language savants-polyglots-but my roommate in college had to get a special exemption from the language requirement.)

Each of these abilities has been related to specific areas of the brain, and many more could be added to the list. And who among us can claim to be perfectly developed in every respect? Probably nobody is completely "developed" in all areas. Keeping this in mind might increase our compassion and understanding for people who are developmentally disordered, as well as our respect for people whose strengths are different from our own. A good site for information on learning disorders is <>.

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Copyright © 2007-2011 Russ Dewey