Autism Spectrum Disorder & Jean Piaget

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Autism Spectrum Disorder is a neurological developmental challenge that commences in early childhood and lasts through the later stages of a person’s life (Fuentes et al., 2014). It effects how a person acts and interacts with other people, communicates, and learns. Actual causes of Autism Spectrum Disorder remain unknown, but psychologists have attempted to link the problem to environmental, genetic and psychological challenges. This paper illustrates, through case study, how theoretical interpretations and solutions can be generated to assist young adults with autism. The case study illustrates how psychology can be used to develop solutions for people that suffer from various challenges, with a primary focus on Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Jamie is a 16-year-old high school student studying in a mainstream school. At the age of four, her mother noticed slow development in terms of speech and coordination. Following this discovery, Jamie began to see a mental health doctor. Consequently, her visit to the psychiatric clinic led to her diagnosis with Autism Spectrum Disorder at the age of six. From elementary education, Jamie has attended mainstream schools as a way of integrating her alongside her peers. Through the education experience, Jamie has registered average to below-average grades. In addition, she finds it difficult responding to random questions, forcing her to work much harder than her classmates in order to cope with the learning standards. Jamie has a difficult time communicating with her peers. She is not as fast as some of her friends with grasping social cues. Therefore, some of her peers tend to exclude and bully her. In addition, she is unable to effectively commit to the domestic chores like most of her friends. At home, she lives with her mother and two sisters. They have remained supportive in a bid to enable her to fully cope with her at home environment and diagnosis. She is in her second year visiting a psychologist, Dr. Satiani. The progress report indicates that Jamie has improved her ability to adapt as well as her social skills, however then remain below average. Throughout the therapy process, Jamie has openly indicated that she experiences memory loss, inability to think logically and clearly, poor retention of new knowledge, and lack of many psychosocial skills. The efforts that Dr. Satiani has made, however, point to Jamie being more adept to effectively deal with these problems. It is evident that Jamie is in her adolescence. Like her peers, she experiences physical and emotional changes, which is normal. She, like many other young girls her age, tries to establish friendly social circles. However, she tends to confide more in her mother, given the hardships that she undergoes in the process of dealing with some of her peers. Her communication has become more characterized by constant repetition, obsessions and general speech problems. Even though Dr. Satiani has reported a positive change in the manner in which Jamie copes with these challenges, she feels like she is not to the level of her peers. It is likely that she sometimes experiences depression due to inability to perform to the levels of her peers, which creates another list of symptoms that make her unable to improve herself even more. Another issue that Jamie confronts is her inability to interact with the opposite sex. Having been raised by a single mother and brought up alongside two other female siblings, Jamie has not had any interaction with boys and men. The psychologist reports that she seems to learn new concepts slower than her peers. However, the psychiatrist is more concerned with the extents to which Jamie remains isolated from her peers, especially those of the opposite sex. The psychiatrist has put in place measures to enable Jamie make friends across the gender divides. However, despite nearing her adulthood, Jamie is still unable to develop abstract ideas and reason effectively like her peers. Although most 16-year-olds in Jamie’s school are in relationships with the opposite sex, Jamie has not been able to forge these connections. Dr. Satiani believes that Jamie has a strong fear for boys her age. In addition, Jamie is unable to fit into the social circles that most of her peers have created. In some case, where young girls have not been exposed to a father figure they have a hard time making connection with men at all, however, Jamie’s case is extreme. Her autism remains the central problem affecting her personality and social development. A strong theoretical basis is needed to help Jamie realize an improvement in her social interaction and personality development processes.

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Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development is a framework that can be used to understand and solve Jamie’s developmental challenges (Ojose, 2008). Piaget’s theory posits that mental development occurs in four distinctive stages. The theory not only concentrates on how children acquire new knowledge, but also on the nature of the intelligence developed. The main stages of development according to this theory include: Sensorimotor stage (birth-2 years), Preoperational Stage (2-7 years), Concrete Operational Stage (7-11 years), Formal Operational Stage (12+ years)

The Sensorimotor stage is when an infant connects him or herself to reality, they learns to differentiate themselves from other human beings, as well as objects. The Preoperational stage, the child is not able to conceptualize situations or things abstractly and needs concrete physical situations. The next stage, Concrete Operational stage, the child is now becoming more adept at conceptualizing situations. They are now more likely to think in logical structures to explain their physical experiences. Lastly, the formal operational stage, this is where their logical thought process no longer needs objects to form and conceptualize rational ideas. Based on the phases of Piaget’s cognitive development, it is evident that Jamie falls in the fourth stage; the formal operational stage.

The final stage of Jean Piaget’s theory is the formal operational level. At this stage, there is an increased in logic. At this stage, most people can clearly developing multiple solutions to problems and think scientifically about the immediate world around them. One of the characteristics of children at this stage is that thought is more abstract and hypothetical problems are solvable (Simatwa, 2010). The final stage of Piaget’s theory also enables children to begin to think more about moral, ethical, philosophical, and political issues which require theoretical and abstract understanding. The use of deductive logic is also a common occurrence at this stage, with most of the children learning to devise their own solutions to the problems that they encounter. Even though Jamie is in her final stage of cognitive development as per Piaget’s theory, it is evident that her cognitive development does not match most of these characteristics. Jamie has problems thinking abstractly about moral, social, political and ethical issues. In addition, her levels of socialization are not meeting the expectations of the psychologist. In the same way, the Jamie’s developmental process is often times clouded by interpersonal problems in the environment in which Jamie develops.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is the main factor that has led to Jamie’s poor cognitive development. She remains incapable of solving most problems on her own. However, with the support of the psychologist and her family, Jamie has the potential of coping with the skills and abilities of her peers and becoming more functional and independent. In addition, she is in a position to ensure a more steady approach to reasoning. The support of the psychologist has helped Jamie to learn the importance of social interaction and how necessary it is to belong to certain social circles.

Based on Piaget’s theory of development, there are various initiatives that should be taken towards assessing and improving on Jamie’s cognitive development. Being that Jamie studies in a mainstream school, there are certain measures that the educators and the psychologist can apply to ensure that her mental development meets her age requirements. Before implementing these strategies, however, Jamie’s psychologist should help her understand her condition and the efforts that it would take to realize the desired outcome. It is important that Jamie is apart of the discussion considering it is her life and her wellbeing.

The first strategy is to support Jamie in taking part in discussions on a variety of topics, issues and current events. The educators and the psychologist should make Jamie be part of groups assigned to research and debate on certain topics. When it comes to disorders like autism, or any disorders, its important to have close supervision. This is necessary to ensure that her peers do not discriminate against her in any way. By encouraging Jamie to participate in open discussions would help to empower her to develop abstract thinking and develop hypothetical solutions to the problems in her immediate environment. Jamie should also be encouraged to share her thoughts and ideas with the educators, peers, parent, friends and siblings. There are many strategies that the psychologist and the educators can use to facilitate this step. First, an acknowledgment of her contributions should be done with the aim of ensuring that she feels appreciated and recognized. Secondly, the psychologist should provide case studies of other clients who successfully went through the process. In a nutshell, Jamie needs the right motivation to help her learn to share her ideas willingly. Another strategy that can be used to improve Jamie’s cognitive development is to subject her to challenges prompting her to advance hypothetical solutions. The psychologist should administer cognitive tests to support Jamie in becoming more interested in generating creative solutions. The final phase of Piaget’s theory postulates that the person should be able to reason from a general principle to specific information. Using cognitive tests would empower Jamie to be more confident in tackling the challenges that she goes through.

Despite the strengths of the theory, there are significant weaknesses associated with its applications. The most common weaknesses that are linked to the theory in relation to Jamie’s case include two challenges. Firstly, there is a failure to address multiple developmental challenges. Piaget’s theory primarily focuses on characterizing the developmental characteristics of people through various stages. However, the theory fails to address developmental challenges. Then, there is its inadequate assessment methods. The theory fails to put in place measures to assess the abilities of various persons through the stages of development. Personality assessment is necessary in gauging the cognitive growth and development.

The case presentation depicts a person undergoing cognitive development challenges, hence the social, personal and behavioral challenges. Jamie’s cognitive development is not proportional to her age, especially in light of Piaget’s cognitive growth stages. By applying the interventions recommended under this theory, Jamie stands a chance to cope with the Autism Spectrum Disorder and the associated challenges that she encounters through her growth. The theory has multiple strengths and a few weaknesses, hence its applicability in dealing with the developmental problem(s) in question.

  1. Fuentes, J., Bakaee, M., Munir, K., Aguayo, P., Gaddour, N. & Oner, O. (2014). Autism Spectrum Disorder. Retrieved on November 16, 2019, from Spectrum Disorder-2014-v1.1.pdf.
  2. Ojose, B. (2008). Applying Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development to Mathematics Instruction. The Mathematics Educator, 18(1): 26-30.
  3. Simatwa, E.M.W. (2010). Piaget’s theory of Intellectual Development and its Implication for Instructional Management at Pre-Secondary School Level. Educational Research and Review, 5(7): 366-371.


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