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Developmental Psychopathology

Multiple Developmental Pathways

Resolving earlier developmental tasks does not guarantee that children will successfully overcome later challenges. By extension, children who experience difficulties with earlier developmental challenges are not destined to develop problems in coping with tasks later in life. Change is always possible. Thus, although many children who begin their lives along healthy developmental paths may continue to traverse along healthy paths, some of these children will also evidence discontinuity in their development. In other words, they will experience difficulties in adapting to subsequent developmental challenges despite having the advantage of experiencing healthy development in earlier developmental periods. Similarly, even though many children who suffer from problems early in life will continue to experience difficulties later in life, many of them will be able to "grow out" of their problems by successfully handling later developmental challenges. So, children who begin on the same path may end up in very different places later in life. Still other children who begin life on different developmental paths may end up resembling each other later in life. Development, then, is characterized by many different starts and stops and multiple directions toward competence and disorder.

A key assumption is that change and diversity in developmental paths is, in large part, predictable or understandable when it is evaluated in the larger context of each child's current and past experiences with risk and protective factors. For example, changes in the balance among exposure to risk and protective factors in the family may account in part for why some children develop disorders or difficulties after experiencing earlier histories of adaptive functioning, whereas other children are able to eventually develop normally after experiencing earlier difficulties. Thus, the emergence of later problems may result from increases in exposure to family risk factors (e.g., poor parental supervision, family instability or divorce, high parental conflict, parent depression) and decreases in the accessibility of protective factors (e.g., positive parent-child relationships, supportive family relations). Similarly, children who eventually reclaim healthy trajectories may have been able to benefit from greater access to family resources or protective factors (e.g., development of a positive relationship with a new caregiver), especially relative to their exposure to forms of family risk (e.g., decreases in conflict between primary caregiver and former romantic partner).

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Health IssuesDevelopmental Psychopathology - Risk And Resilience, The Complexity Of Risk Processes, Resilience And The Role Of Protective Factors