The brilliant developmental neuropsychologist Annette Karmiloff-Smith has passed away and one of the brightest lights into the psychology of children’s development has been dimmed.
She actually started her professional life as a simultaneous interpreter for the UN and then went on to study psychology and trained with Jean Piaget.
Karmiloff-Smith went into neuropsychology and starting rethinking some of the assumptions of how cognition was organised in the brain which, until then, had almost entirely been based on studies of adults with brain injury.
These studies showed that some mental abilities could be independently impaired after brain damage suggesting that there was a degree of ‘modularity’ in the organisation of cognitive functions.
But Karmiloff-Smith investigated children with developmental disorders, like autism or William’s syndrome, and showed that what seemed to be the ‘natural’ organisation of the brain in adults was actually a result of development itself – an approach she called neuroconstructivism.
In other words, developmental disorders were not ‘knocking out’ specific abilities but affecting the dynamics of neurodevelopment as the child interacted with the world.
If you want to hear more of Karmiloff-Smith’s life and work, her interview on BBC Radio 4’s The Life Scientific is well worth a listen.
Link to page of remembrance for Annette Karmiloff-Smith.