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Piaget’s Conservation Theory & Autism

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1 Piaget’s Conservation Theory & Autism
Breana McCormack Child Growth & Development

2 Jean Piaget Born in 1896 in Neuchâtel, Switzerland Died in 1980
Studied at the University of Neuchâtel and briefly at University of Zurich. At the age of 15, he published several articles on mollusks based on his interest in biology. Piaget faced an intellectual crisis realizing that his religious and philosophical views lacked a scientific background. Planned to study the origin of knowledge through the mind’s development in child psychology. Developed his own “genetic epistemology.” 1920, Binet Laboratory; became interested in children’s wrong answers in standardized intelligence tests. His genetic epistemology composed of philosophical questions concerning the origin of knowledge which were answered by his studies on children. The wrong answers demonstrated a consistent pattern that suggested that their thinking has a character of its own. From then on, he left the Binet Laboratory and the tests to rather observe children’s spontaneous actions.

3 Piaget’s Stage Theory Sensorimotor Intelligence (Birth – 2 years)
Babies show first signs of intelligence through their physical actions and sensory perceptions. Schemes – actions for dealing with the environment Primary Circular Reactions – organization of two separate body movements, schemes. Thought begins Preoperational Thought (2 – 7 years) Children learn to think using symbols and images. Thinking is unsystematically illogical. Make Believe Play Animism – inanimate objects are personified. Conservation

4 Piaget’s Stage Theory Concrete Operations (7 – 11 years)
Children think systematically but need to refer to concrete objects and activities. Child achieves this level of thinking after mastering conservation. Formal Operations (11 – Adulthood) Young people develop the capacity to think systematically on a purely abstract level.

5 Bruno Bettelheim Born in 1903 in Vienna, Austria. Died in 1990
Grew up with an interest in psychoanalysis. In 1932, he and his wife began caring for a girl later diagnosed with autism. From 1938 to 1939, he was a prisoner in the concentration camps of Dachau and Buchenwald during the time of Hitler. Entered the U.S in 1944 and took over the Orthogenic School in Chicago working with and sheltering children with a variety of mental disorders. A brief note on Bettelheim since he dealt with autistic children.

6 Bettelheim on Autism At the time, autism was a mysterious condition in which children are unresponsive to people. Autism is the earliest of severe personality disturbances, typically showing up around age 2. Bettelheim suggests that autism is caused by children giving up their autonomous actions because their actions received indifference.

7 Terms That Guided This Research
Autism [T]he presence of a distinctive impairment in the nature and quality of social and communicative development.... It is this impairment that distinguishes autism from other neurodevelopmental conditions (e.g.., mental retardation, developmental language disorders, specific learning disabilities).” (Autism Identification, Education, and Treatment, Zager) I found this quote as a very well definition of autism.

8 Terms That Guided This Research
Preoperational Stage (2 – 7 years) Conservation The comprehension that an object that has changed aesthetically still has the same quantity. Substage 1 Child clearly fails to conserve, fails to realize that the quantity is the same. Substage 2 Child takes a step toward conservation but does not achieve it. A child “considers two dimensions simultaneously and recognizes that a change in one dimension cancels out a change in the other.” (Theories of Development, Crain) Examples of Sub-stages: "Because it is more taller/wider.” (Stuck in 1-dimensional thinking) Child argues one is taller, but the other is wider.” (Considers 2 dimensions simultaneously and recognizes that a change in one dimension cancels out a change in the other.) Piaget argued that children master conservation spontaneously. The crucial moment comes at the second substage of pre-operation. (Internal Contradiction)

9 Terms That Guided This Research
Concrete Operations (7 – 11 years) When children achieve conservation, they are entering this stage. They demonstrate conservation using three arguments: Identity – Nothing was added or taken away. Compensation – The changes cancel out each other. The child assumes that the changes are part of an organized system (a change in one dimension is related to a change in another dimension). Inversion – The object after undergoing a change can be reversed back into it’s original state. Logical Operations – mental actions that are reversible. Examples of Three Arguments: Identity - "You haven't added any or taken any away, so it has to be the same.” Compensation – "This glass is taller here, but the other is wider here, so they're still the same.” Inversion – "They are still the same because you can pour this one back to what it was before." Logical operations refer to the three arguments. When a child argues that a change in height is canceled out by a change in width, the child understands that the end result is a return, or reversal, to the original amount. This point of reversibility when the child uses the inversion argument, pointing out that "you can pour it back."

10 Research Questions Do autistic children follow Piaget’s Conservation Theory in accordance to their age groups? Are there patterns of differences among conserving autistic children with respect to conserving normally developed children?

11 Hypothesis Yes, autistic children will follow Piaget’s Conservation Theory in accordance to their age groups. No, autistic children will have the same conserving patterns as normally functioning children. Autistic children only are delayed in their speech and social interaction skills, not in cognition. So they should be able to conserve on a normally- functioning level.

12 Setting The study took place the researcher’s home in San Juan, TX.
A table setting with two chairs. Study took place in one day.

13 Limitations Researcher had access to only four children: Varying Ages
2 Autistic Children 1 Male (5 years old) 1 Female (17 years old) 2 Normally Functioning Children 1 Female (7 years old) 1 Female (9 years old) Varying Ages

14 Procedure Task 1: Number Conservation
Take 16 pennies and make two rows, 8 in each row and with the same length. Count together how many pennies there are in each row. Ask the child, “Is there more here (point to one row) or here (point to other row)?” “Why do you think so?” Spread out one row of the pennies so that one row is physically longer than the other. Ask the child, “Is there more pennies here (point to longer row) or here (point to shorter), or are they the same?” Record the child’s response. Then ask, “Why do you think so?” Note: Record the child’s answers.

15 Procedure Task 2: Mass Conservation
Take a piece of clay and divide it as equally as possible. Have child roll the pieces into two balls and then ask the child if they are the same.
 Note: If the child agrees that they are the same, proceed. If child disagrees, ask the child to make them the same. Have child squish one of the balls into a pancake. Ask the child, “Is there the same amount of clay in this one (pointing to the ball) as there is in this one (pointing to the pancake)?” After their response, ask, “Why do you think that this one has more,” or, “Why do you think that they have the same amount of clay?” Record all responses exactly as the child has reported them.

16 Procedure Task 3 : Volume Conservation
Put two glasses of the same size in front of the child. Ask child to pour equal amounts of water into both cups. Ask student to verify that there is the same amount of water in each glass by asking, “Are you sure that there is the same amount of water in each glass? Positive?” Note: Only move onto next step once child verifies the cups have the same amount of water. Ask the student to pour water from one of the glasses into an empty “different” glass. Wait for child to complete pouring, then ask, “Now which one has more?” ”Why?” Note: Record child’s answers on a data sheet.

17 Data Task 1: Number Conservation
“They are still the same. It’s still a group of eight.” (7 year old, female) Said they are the same because “you just spread them out.”(9 year old, female) Said the spread out line of pennies had more “because it has more. It’s longer.” (5 year old, male, autistic) “They both have same amount I guess, they are worth the same.” (17 year old, female, autistic)

18 Data Task 2: Mass Conservation
“Yes, all you did was smush one down. You didn’t take any away.” (7 year old, female) “Yes, still have same amount but one is a sphere and one is flat.” (9 year old, female) The ball has more “because it’s a ball.” (5 year old, male, autistic) “The amount of them doesn’t change if you change the shape.” “This one is flat but we didn’t take any away.” (17 year old, female, autistic)

19 Data Task 3: Volume Conservation
“Yes both are the same. I poured the same water from the tall skinny one to the small fat one.” (7 year old, female) “Yes, they have the same amount of water because the water from this cup (points at bigger cup) was poured into this little cup. So it’s the same amount.” (9 year old, female) “Bigger cup has more water because the little cup is little.” (5 year old, male, autistic) “Technically they’re both the same. Because even though this one (points at little cup) is small and all, [but] it’s wider.” (17 year old, female, autistic)

20 Results

21 Findings Child 1: According to Piaget, Child 1 clearly was able to conserve. She did not hesitate in her answers. She is within the age range of Concrete Operations stage. Child 2: According to Piaget, Child 2 was clearly able to conserve. She did not hesitate in her answers. She within the age range of the Concrete Operations stage. Child 3a: According to Piaget, Child 3a was not able to conserve. According to Piaget, a child is around 7 years old when he is able to conserve. Child 3a is in the Preoperational stage. Child 4a: According to Piaget, Child 4a was able to conserve. Her age is beyond the Concrete Operational stage, but her development period cannot be determined simply by only a conservation experiment. Since Piaget did not stress the importance on age, I cannot place her in the Formal Operations stage without further investigation. Child 4a had difficulty conveying what she was trying to express.

22 Implications My Hypothesis was correct.
Piaget states that children around age 7 are able to conserve. Child 3a (5 years old) was not able to conserve, following Piaget’s age limit. Child 3a used similar logic as other children from other research studies that could not conserve. Child 4a (17 years old) used two of the three conservation arguments, showing that her patterns matched with those that can conserve.

23 New Questions Where would a 7 year old autistic child stand in the midst of the Development stages? Since there are many levels of autism (ranging from severe to mild), how would both cases perform in the conservation tasks?

24 Evaluations If I were to do my research study again:
I would use more children, specifically more autistic children. Test more children around the same ages and according to Piaget’s age range for the Preoperational and Concrete Operational Stages. I would record with a recorder the study, for clearer data. A limitation I encountered was that one of the autistic children had difficulty conveying what she was trying to express.

25 References Bettelheim, Bruno. "Mutuality." The Empty Fortress: Infantile Autism and the Birth of the Self. New York: Free Press, Print. "BRUNO BETTELHEIM." PHILWEB HOME. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr < Crain, William C. "Piaget's Cognitive-Developmental Theory." Theories of Development: Concepts and Applications. 6 ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Print. Crawford, Tracy. “Does Working with Sets Contribute to Conservation of Number for Young Children?” A Thesis Presented to the Faculty of the School of Education Saint Mary’s College of California. © Research Study. Database: ERIC Piaget, Jean, and Bärbel Inhelder. The Child's Conception of Space. New York: W. W. Norton, Print. "Piagets theory." Piaget's Developmental Stage Theory. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr < >. Tilton, Adelle Jameson. The Everything Parents Guide to Children with Autism: Know what to expect, find the help you need, and get through the day. Avon, Mass.: Adams Media, Print. Truslow, Chasity. "Jean Piaget | Changes in Child Psychology." Changes in Child Psychology | Anam Habib, Chasity Truslow, Chelsea Harmon & Georgia Karellas. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr <>. Sigman, Marian, and Judy A. Ungerer. "Cognitive And Language Skills In Autistic, Mentally Retarded, And Normal Children." Developmental Psychology 20.2 (1984): PrintResearch Study. Database: ERIC Zager, Dianne. Autism Identification, Education, and Treatment. 2nd ed. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Print. Zelan, Karen. "Bruno Bettleheim." Prospects: The Quarterly Review of Comparative Education Reprint. Paris: ©UNESCO: International Bureau of Education, Print.

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