Christopher is seven years old and attends a district 75,6:1:1 classroom. He is an only child
and he was born in the United States. His parents migrated from Ecuador and they speak
Spanish at home. While his father is able to communicate with a limited vocabulary his
mother has less command of the English language. Christopher is on the Autistic Spectrum
and he has been having Speech Therapy to help him develop his language.
Personal Identity can be defined as the perception of self that grows over time. It is defined
Christopher’s personality has been formed by the influence at home, in his formative years.
Many migrant families in the US bring up their offspring with the concept that ‘children
should be seen and not heard’. This is in variance with contemporary American parents who
have moved on from this Baby Boomers idea. Christopher, would also have been influenced
the main influence of his parents to the impact of the school environment. This concept is
focused on in Erickson’s stages of Development.
Erickson’s Industry versus Inferiority ( competence ) stage takes place between 5-12 years.
According to Erickson, the school and neighbourhood replace parents as the main points of
influence. This is demonstrated by Christopher’s choice of speaking mainly English at
Erickson, the child is able to “ learn, create and accomplish new skills and knowledge thus
developing a sense of industry”. ( Erickson’s Stages of Development ). By the end of the
study Christopher was able to finish written work with the support of his teacher. While he
has trouble reading, by the end of the study, he has developed a positive inclination to learn.
He participates in the lessons and can recognise letters and duplicate sounds. Further, he is
able to copy words and draw pictures.
Children developing a sense of self may try- out different ways of expressing themselves to
determine what feels right and will last. This could be the way they dress or wear their hair.
Perhaps, more importantly, the way they think or behave. Over time, Christopher has moved
on, from arguing and becoming angry with his peers to being more helpful. He assists a boy
back to his desk after the lock down and is kind to another boy who is scared of the noise
coming from the mixer. It could be said that Christopher is beginning to learn what works for
While it is important to treat each child on the autistic spectrum as an individual with their
own personal identity, he/she will have particular challenges. Dr Ford argues that
these children can develop low self esteem as they perceive well meaning comments on
behaviour as criticism. They can also become anxious when trying new things as they need
structure and familiarity in their life. At times, Christopher had problems with adapting to
some subjects and new concepts. However, it is interesting that, when the teacher was
discussing vertebrates with the students Christopher was able to understand the concept by
touching the back bones of all the teachers and students in the room. This demonstrated that
Christopher was learning to adjust to new situations. Another issue that children on the
Autistic Spectrum encounter is difficulty when being on the ouside of the in -group. This
might explain Christopher’s reaction to his belief, that he has missed out on the class trip
which was the day before.
Dr Ford also mantains that “ children with ASD have difficulties with self – identity. They
are usually unable to describe character and personality traits, they have problems
introspecting and describing thoughts and feelings and they have a limited vocabulary for
describing personality traits”. To demonstrate the concept of individuality, Chrisopher, told
his teacher he was upset because he had missed out on the school trip. However, this could
be a learned response and not necessarily a true understanding of how he was feeling. This
difficulty with defining self in childhood can lead to an identity crisis starting in adolescence
and continuing thoughout one’s life.
When considering cognition in children Piaget describes it “as the way they think, reason and
perceive the world”. Perhaps it could be argued that at times Christopher sees the world as a
confusing and challenging place. However, with intervention, it has been shown that
cognitive skills can improve. Mental processes which include remembering and reasoning,
and intellectual abilities are connected to emotional behaviours. The ability to be able to
interact appropriately with others, in a social setting, will depend on the ability to think,
communicate and understand what is happening. Christopher demonstrated the problems he
had with others when he yelled at another boy who had gone to the wrong table in the
cafeteria. His extreme distress at what he perceived as inapropriate in this situation could be
attributed to his inability to think this through.
Piaget considered that “the child learns by doing”. This was the case when Christopher felt
the backbones. I believe that we are programmed to learn in a unique way. It could be
argued that Christopher was a kinaesthetic learner rather than an auditory learner. Whenever
the teacher was instructing the children verbally he tended to become distracted, looking
around the room and singing to himself. He was also more interested when the teacher
showed pictures in a book. This would suggest that his learning style was also visual.
Laverty and Burley argue for and against the concept of different learning style. They
maintain that the child can learn by a hands on approach, because he/she is running around
and this causes more oxygen to be carried to the brain. They also argue the possibility there
is one neuro transmitter for each learning style.
Piaget argues that “the child born into egocentrism, sees himself as the centre of the universe
with everything revolving around him and occurring only for his pleasure”. When
considering Christopher’s often disruptive behaviour in class one could come to the
conclusion that he is egocentric. As Christopher is cognivitely delayed it could be argued
that he is demonstrating the tendencies of a younger child. As Piaget argues, the child in the
six to twelve year age group, as cognitive ability has developed, demonstrates declining
levels of egocentrism. Christopher’s behaviour could also be explained by his inability to
communicate effectively and his need for attention.
Piaget refers to schemas which are “ the basic building blocks of intelligent behaviour or a
way of organising knowledge”. A developing mental process means growth in the number
and complexity that one has learned. Further, schemas are linked to mental convolutions of
the world which are used to understand and respond to situations. They are stored and
applied when required. Christopher is able to line up and order his breakfast in the cafeteria
and dispose of his plate and leave with his classmates at the end of the meal. It could be said
that he has developed schemas for everyday use. Assimilation means using shemas to deal
with a new situation. Accomodation is used when an existing schema does not work and
needs to be altered. Equilibrium moves development along. I believe that Christoper had
reached Equilibrium when he helped another student back to his desk after the lockdown and
when he assures another student who is afraid of the noise of the mixer.
Bilimoria defines autism at the neurological level. Essentially the neurons in the brain
are not communicating effectively and as a result the brain cannot change effectively to deal
with changes in the environment. She argues that our experiences from a young age shape
our brain connections. In order to adapt to input from the environment there needs to be a
balance between two neural signals. The connections between neurons in autism are believed
of balance in critical periods (developmental windows) negates environmental influences
essential for our development. In infants, at high risk for autism, brain activity, which
determines how information is assimilated, is decreased.
Piaget believed that the inner promptings of the child and his/her natural discoveries were
foremost in cognitive development. However, Vygotsky argued that after the age of two
“cultural sign systems” had the main influence on cognitive development. In fact, human
thought processes which differ from other species are dependent on speech and other sign
systems. As the child reaches school age, instruction in writing and math, will result in
“abstract or theoretical reasoning”. Also, formal instuction in subjects, like science, helps the
child to use broader frameworks to “place spontaneous concepts.” For example the child
might define grandmother in terms of his/her own grandmother. Looking at the concept of a
family tree would help to define the concept of a grandmother.
derives from his knowledge of his membership in a social group”. Being part
Jaspal believes that “ social identity is that part of an individual’s self concept of an ethnic
group, for example, allows one to have a shared heritage with others. The young child is
involuntarily socialised in the group culture. It is possible, however, to identify with different
cultures in the course of a day and this is true for Christopher who would be Spanish at home
and American at school. One’s social identity can be threatened if there are changes in the
social context. This would adversely affect one’s continuity, distinctiveness over others, self
esteem and self efficacy. This would be the case with migrants who have moved into a new
culture, especially if there is a language barrier. Often migrants choose areas in their new
country, in which, there is a community of people from the same background.
Vygotsky argues that “people have created psychological tools to master their own
behaviour”. It could be argued that speech creates social identity as we converse with people
around us. It “frees us from immediate distractions and allows us to focus on the past and
make plans for the future”. The example of a deer eating vegetables on a property is a
relevant one. Initially, the family were chasing the deer away as they functioned in the
present. After talking about the problem, using words such as fence, ditch and other
suggestion from neighbours, they came up with a plan to build a higher fence.
Christopher’s limited speech would affect him adversely, as he is often distracted in the
classroom environment. While he may not be interested in what the teacher is presenting, he
is unable to talk at length about a topic which would allow him to learn. Vygotskey explains
that writing and reading do not come naturally to a child as it requires him/her to stop
physical expressive speech and formal instruction is needed. Perhaps Christopher will find
these pusuits easier than his peers as he struggles with physical conversation. By the age of
eight, self directed speech is turned into inner speech. Christopher, however, due to the fact
that he is delayed is still using speech like. “Oh my goodness, machine ice” as he looks out
the window on a cold day. This demonstrates that at times he still has difficulty using inner
“Social Integration occurs when individuals become aware of and actively seek interaction
with others for enjoyment”. (Davis Autism International). It begins when a child cuddles
another person, tries to gain his/her mother’s attention in a positive way and looks for eye
contact and a smile. It continues when children are aware of how others are feeling and their
value system, and behaving appropriately as a result. Social interaction is not a natural
progress for a child on the spectrum. This is true because, they usually they do not have a
sense of self and a fundamental core identity, which would result in an ability to adapt to
those around them. It is interesting that at times Christopher is able to assist fellow students
who are distressed. Over time he is learning to identify how others feel and react.
Consequently Christopher is learning to interact with others and enjoy their company. I
believe this is due to the one on one attention he is receiving in the classroom from a teacher
assigned to him.
Piaget, Vygotsky and Erickson have enlightened us with their theories on child development.
It could be argued that Christopher, who is on the autistic spectrum, is cognitively and
socially delayed. His behavioural problems can be attributed to his autism or the fact that he
can’t communicate effectively. He is very focused on what the other students are doing and
gets very upset when they step out of line. He appears to understand when other children did
not behave appropriately. However, his own behaviour, was not always socially acceptable.
As is the case with other children, his development would have been influenced by his
different cultural and social settings.
Bilimoria, P. Breaking Into The Autistic Brain. Retrieved April 29,2016 from www.childrenshospital.org
Davis Autism Approach – How does it Work? Retrieved April 29,2016 from www.davisautism.com/how_does_it_work_html
Erickson’s Stages of Development. Child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Retrieved April 29, 2016 from www.learning_theories.com/ericksons_stages_of_development.html
Ford L. Brighter, Futures Psychology, Enhancing Self Esteem and Self Identity in the Child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Retrieved April 29, 2016 from www.amaze.org.au/uploads/2014/10
Hefner C (Dr), All Psych Erickson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development. Retrieved April 29,2016 from http://allpsych.com/psychology101/social_development/
Jaspar R. Language and Social Identity. Retrieved April 29, 2016 from www.academic.edu/200226/language_and_social_identity_a_psychosocial_approach
Lafferty., Burley K. (Dr), Do Learning Styles Exist. Retrieved April 29, 2016 from www.learningstyles.webs.com