Understanding Developmental Disorders: A Causal Modelling Approach / Edition 1

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A long-awaited book from developmental disorders expert John Morton, Understanding Developmental Disorders: A Causal Modelling Approach makes sense of the many competing theories about what can go wrong with early brain development, causing a child to develop outside the normal range.

  • Based on the idea that understanding developmental disorders requires us to talk about biological, cognitive, behavioral and environmental factors, and to talk about causal relationships among these elements.
  • Explains what causal modelling is and how to do it.
  • Compares different theories about particular developmental disorders using causal modelling.
  • Will have a profound impact on research in the fields of psychology, neuroscience and medicine.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"What causes disorders of development? How can they be meaningfully defined? These questions have resulted in deeply entangled controversies. John Morton has provided a razor-sharp tool that cuts the Gordian knot. This tool uses a simple pictorial notation that leaves aside ambiguous and divisive words. It resolves entrenched but illusory oppositions between cognition and brain and between nature and nurture. It makes the confusing facts about autism, dyslexia, and other disorders fall into a new coherent pattern and invigorates the comparison of different points of view. This book is indispensable for anyone trying to understand cognitive development and its disorders." Uta Frith, Professor of Cognitive Development, University College London Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience

"In his compelling book, Understanding Developmental Disorders, John Morton applies a causal modeling approach to understanding the influences that biological, cognitive, behavioral, and environmental factors exert on the emergence of developmental disorders. Morton eloquently conveys a way of conceptualizing various theories of developmental disorders. This volume will provide an invaluable tool for students, practitioners, and those in academia. I highly recommend it as a must for all professionals striving to understand the origins and course of developmental disorders." Dante Cicchetti, Ph.D., Director, Mt. Hope Family Center

"Causal modelling of cognition is a new and original tool not only for thinking with precision about cognitive development and the ways in which it can go amiss; I can see this book having a revolutionary impact on developmental psychology. The causal-modelling framework is also valuable for exposing the kind of sloppy thinking about the causes of developmental difficulties that one sees so often in statements by journalists and politicians (the book contains many such examples). Simply and cogently written, this book is of great importance both for scientists in developmental psychology and for public-health professionals concerned with disorders such as autism, ADHD and dyslexia." Prof Max Coltheart, Scientific Director, Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science, Australia

"John Morton's deep and wonderful book should be required reading for any serious student of cognitive development, as well as for any researcher concerned with developmental disabilities. In giving us a tool for thinking about the causal history of developmental disabilities, he offers profound insights into the nature of causality, the relations among different levels of analysis, and the causes of four developmental syndromes, including autism and dyslexia." Susan Carey, Professor, Harvard University

"Morton's lucid and highly readable book offers an excellent tool to clarify the field of developmental disorders as it stands and to point the way to the future." Trends in Cognitive Sciences, August 2005

"Morton writes from first principles but then, as the book progresses, assumes some psychological sophistication. He has a comfortable and conversational...style that has become unusual in scientific writing. It invites reflection, questioning and discussion and I found it well suited to putting across concepts." Tom Berney, Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, May 2006

“Morton’s causal modeling approach seems an innovative and insightful advance in examining and understanding the causes and diagnosis of pathologic conditions.” Psychological Record

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780631187585
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 1/24/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,403,000
  • Product dimensions: 6.04 (w) x 9.08 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

John Morton is the former Director of the Medical Research Council’s Cognitive Development Unit. He is now Visiting Professor in the Department of Psychology and Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London.

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Table of Contents


Chapter 1 Introducing Cause.

Cause and Public Issues – ‘Working Mums Blamed for Children’s Failures’.

Cause and Individual Events – ‘Why Did Romeo Die?’.

Why Look at Cause?.

Some More Reasons for Not Looking at Individual Cases.

The Need for a Framework for Thinking In.

Creating a Tool – The Problem of Notation.

An Example of The Limits of Language.

An Invitation to Consider Diagrams as a Tool.

A Tool for Representing Causal Relationships.

Chapter 2 Introducing Cognition.

One Thing I Do Want You to Believe.


Can We Rely on Behaviour?.

The IQ Example – A Note of Caution.

Why Cause Needs Cognition.

Chapter 3 Representing Causal Relationships.

Categorizing Facts.

The Causal Notation.

Starting a Causal Model for Autism.


Some Easy Stuff On Cause and Correlation.

Other Notations.

Chapter 4 Causal Accounts of Autism.

How Causal Modelling Started.

The Merry-Go-Round of Circular Reasoning.

The Biological Origin of Autism.

The Role Of Cognition in Defining Autism.

What is Mentalizing?.

Changes over Time.

The Non-Social Features of Autism: How to Diagram Ideas on Weak Central Coherence in Autism.

Chapter 5 The What and the How.

Ground Rules Of Causal Modelling.

Chapter 6 Competing Causal Accounts of Autism.

Representing the Effects of Environmental Factors.

Cognitive Theories of Autism.

Chapter 7 The Problem of Diagnosis.

Diagnosis and Cause – Relying on Behaviour.

The Spanish Inquisition Example – The Dangers of Labelling.

Problems Of Diagnostic Practice.


Changes over Time: Improvement and Deterioration.

Diagrams for Individual Cases and Diagrams for Disorders in General.

The Variability of the Phenotype.

Chapter 8 A Causal Analysis Of Dyslexia.

The Dyslexia Debate: Is There Such a Thing as Dyslexia?.

The Discrepancy Definition of Specific Reading Disability.

Towards a Cognitive Definition.

An X-Type Causal Model of Dyslexia.

Biological Factors.

Cognitive Factors.

Difficulties of the Beginning Reader.

Associated and Secondary Problems.

General and Specific Deficits.

Competing Theories of Dyslexia.

Non-Biological Causes.

Other Biological Causes of Reading Failure.

Chapter 9 The Hyperkinetic Confusions.

Drugs As Diagnostic Refinement.

Types of Theory.

The Problem of Comorbidity – Conduct Disorder and ADHD.

The Cognitive Level.

Sonuga-Barke’s Dual Pathway Model.

Chapter 10 Theories of Conduct Disorder.

Violence Inhibition Mechanism (VIM) Model.

The Social Information Processing Model for Aggressive Children.

Coercive Parenting Model of Patterson.

The Theory of Life-Course Persistent Antisocial Behaviour.

Chapter 11 Tying in Biology.

Relations between the Cognitive and Biological Levels.

Equivalence: Brain to Cognition.

Causal Influences from Cognition to Brain.

Genes and Cause – the End of Behaviour Genetics.


Mouse (and Other) Models for Human Disorders.

Chapter 12 To Conclude.


Name Index.

Subject Index.


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