Maladaptive behaviour reflecting impaired socialization, school performance, language and motor skills are broadly pervasive disabilities among children. Such disabilities in childhood may become transformed in young adulthood into varied forms and levels of societal incompetence and anti-social behaviour. Underlying these disabilities is the abnormal operation of the human central nervous system. Our task is to understand the maladaptive workings of this remarkable organ system as it evolves normally and abnormally in the course of a child's development. We consider this challenge here in the general framework of human brain science with emphasis upon cognitive neuroscience and developmental neurobiology. We propose a set of programmatic expectations and strategies that draw upon the critical advantages of longitudinal study of subjects through a substantial portion of the developmental epoch.
We envision a developmental brain science of child behaviour that is built upon models of brain operation which have arisen in cognitive neuroscience. A developmental brain science of child behaviour must also proceed within the analytic limits of the set of tools with which we may study the living human brain. These guiding constraints shape the perspective of the present discussion.
We will accept, as our working cognitive science model, the view that the brain is a computational map (Churchland & Sejnowski, 1988; Kosslyn, 1987; Changeux & Dehaene, 1990). By this we mean that behaviour reflects the operation of information processing algorithms, and that these algorithms depend upon the workings of discrete and definable processing components organized into sub-systems. The individual components and their sub-systems serving each algorithm are mapped in distributed fashion upon the brain.
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