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Cognitive neuropsychology provides a theoretical framework and methods that can be of value in the study of developmental disorders, but the "dissociation" logic at the centre of this approach is not well suited to the developmental context. This is illustrated with examples from specific language impairment. Within the developing language system there is ample evidence for interaction between levels of representation, with modularity emerging in the course of development. This means that one typically is seeking to explain a complex pattern of associated impairments, rather than highly selective deficits. For instance, a selective impairment in auditory processing can have repercussions through the language system and may lead to distinctive syntactic deficits that are seen in written as well as spoken language. Changes in the nature of representations and in the relationships between components of a developing system mean that cross-sectional data at a single point in development may be misleading indicators of the primary deficit. Furthermore, traditional cognitive neuropsychology places a disproportionate emphasis on representational (competence) deficits, with processing (performance) deficits being relatively neglected. Methods for distinguishing these two kinds of impairment are discussed, as well as other approaches for elucidating the underlying nature of developmental disorders.

Original publication




Journal article


Q J Exp Psychol A

Publication Date





899 - 923


Child, Cognitive Science, Developmental Disabilities, Humans, Language Disorders, Models, Psychological, Neuropsychology, Research Design