Effects of Cognitive Impairments on Human Growth & Development

Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Cognitive impairments can have far-reaching issues for many people. But how exactly do they impact physical, intellectual, and social development? In this lesson, we explore the effects of cognitive impairments on human development.

Cognitive Impairment

Janelle is worried about her son Charles. He has been diagnosed with a cognitive impairment, but she's not sure what that means or how it might impact different parts of his life. Will he develop normally or can his impairment change the way or rate at which Charles grows physically, socially, and intellectually?

A cognitive impairment is a deficit in thinking, attention, memory, and/or language. It's a general term that can vary widely from person to person. Some people with cognitive impairments may have severe challenges in a variety of areas. Others might have very specific and mild issues. Regardless of whether it's severe or mild, specific or broad, cognitive impairment can have an impact on a child's development in other areas, too.

To help Janelle better understand the wide-ranging impact of cognitive impairment and what to expect from her son, let's take a closer look at how cognitive impairments can influence physical, social, and intellectual development.

Physical Development

Charles has been diagnosed with a cognitive impairment, but as we've seen, that can mean many different things. In Charles' case, his impairment deals with his attention and memory. It is relatively mild and specific. In contrast, Charles' classmate Lou has severe cognitive impairments that impact much of her thinking, memory, and language skills.

Though the children have very different cognitive impairments, they may both see delays or challenges in their physical development, or how bodies change over time. This can include issues with sensory input and motor control (or the control of movement). Their cognitive impairments will interact with their physical development in different ways, though.

Children with cognitive deficits can have issues with learning to move, including walking, holding pens or pencils, or taking care of themselves. Children may have difficulty dressing or brushing their teeth. The specific cognitive impairment of the child will likely determine how their physical development is impacted. For example, Charles might struggle to take care of himself because he can't remember the steps to brush his teeth, while Lou might have a harder time actually controlling her movements.

In general, the more severe and general the cognitive impairment is, the more impact it will have on a person's physical development. A child like Charles, with a mild and specific cognitive deficit, is likely to have fewer and perhaps milder challenges than a child who has more general and severe deficits (like Lou).

Intellectual & Social Development

Janelle isn't just worried about Charles' physical development, though. How will he get along with others? How will he do in school?

Janelle is thinking about intellectual development, which involves changes in thinking, memory, and language. She is also thinking of social development, which involves how we grow in the ways that we interact with others and our own emotions. These two things are linked to each other, so let's explore them together.

You might have noticed that the definition for intellectual development is very closely related to that of cognitive impairment. Specifically, they both have to deal with thinking, memory, and language. In this way, they are directly linked to each other. Charles, for example, might struggle to develop reading skills because of his memory and attention issues. Lou might struggle to understand language because of her disability.

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