Down Syndrome Research and Practice 7(2)
Editorial from Down Syndrome Research and Practice, Volume 7, Issue 2.
Abstracts from the 2nd International Conference on Chromosome 21 and Medical Research on Down Syndrome: Part 2
Abstracts from the 2nd International Conference on Chromosome 21 and Medical Research on Down Syndrome: Part 2, held in Barcelona, Spain, April 6-7, 2001
There are both psychological and biological reasons to expect that certain areas of learning will present young children with Down syndrome with significant problems. Knowledge of the neurological underpinnings of these specific difficulties can often allow compensatory teaching strategies to be put in place, however, and some of these have proved highly effective. The impact of the psychological environment on the progress of development in children with Down syndrome is less well understood. Experience of how others respond to their attempts at understanding the physical and social world and the balance of successes and failures they experience in their early learning are both likely to influence the approach to learning adopted when faced with mastering new skills. Findings from inter-linking studies of cognitive and socio-cognitive development which have explored learning behaviours at different ages and at different developmental stages illustrate how a learning style can sometimes evolve over time in which less than efficient use is made of current levels of cognitive ability. Social ploys are sometimes used to avoid engagement in learning, with the net effect that opportunities to learn new skills are not fully exploited and old skills are sometimes inadequately consolidated. Findings of a misuse of social skills in cognitive contexts do not necessarily provide support for the widely-held view that social understanding is an area of strength in children with Down syndrome and less vulnerable to disruption than cognitive development. Data from a recent study of face-processing abilities suggest that there may in fact be a specific weakness in a fundamental skill normally underpinning the development of social understanding: the ability to recognise differences in emotional expressions. The children with Down syndrome in this study had few problems in correctly identifying individual faces but evidenced difficulties in reliably interpreting the emotional expressions portrayed in these faces. These findings are consistent with the emerging picture of neurological disruption in Down syndrome and with what is known of the neurology underlying this key component in social cognition. As most learning takes place in a social context, the findings have implications for adult-child and child-child learning partnerships and would seem to merit further investigation.
Sheila Glenn, Beverley Dayus, Cliff Cunningham, and Maureen Horgan
Mastery motivation refers to the intrinsic motivation children have to interact with their environments in order to learn about them. It appears early in life, and has been regarded by many researchers as a key motivator for development. It has also been suggested that young school age children with Down syndrome show lowered motivation to perform tasks. It is important to know if this low motivation is present from the start, or develops as a result of environmental experiences; studies of mastery motivation have been one way of investigating this issue. However definitions of mastery motivation, and hence empirical studies, have varied. Thus this paper starts by revisiting the issues surrounding definition and measurement. There is general agreement on some issues: that mastery motivation is intrinsic, that it is manifest in different behaviours as the child develops, that there are individual differences in mastery behaviour, and that these are affected by environmental factors. There is also current agreement that it is essential to remove the confound of differing levels of developmental competence by using individualised measurement. However there is disagreement about which behaviours best index mastery motivation. Some empirical work with infants with Down syndrome is reviewed, and results from a recent longitudinal study on the development of mastery motivation are presented. The results concurred with most others in the recent literature, suggesting that low mastery motivation is not inevitable in infancy in Down syndrome. Infants with Down syndrome showed similar patterns of development as typically developing children, with slight delays. It is argued that longitudinal studies are needed to demonstrate such patterns of development. As the children developed from 6 to 24 months mental age there was no evidence for decreasing levels of mastery motivation. Thus there was no support for the view that more failure experiences impact on levels of mastery motivation. In contrast caregivers did see their young children with Down syndrome as less object mastery oriented than did caregivers of typically developing children. The caregivers of children with Down syndrome were also significantly more directive in their interactions with their children, and there was some suggestion that individual differences in mastery behaviours were related to levels of mastery behaviours in their children. The final section speculates on reasons for these results, and makes suggestions for future work.
Language and number in Down syndrome: The complex developmental trajectory from infancy to adulthood
This paper examines language and number understanding in infants with Down syndrome and Williams syndrome and compares infant performance to that of adults. The cross-syndrome/ cross-domain studies demonstrate that the pattern of performance of infants with Down syndrome and Williams syndrome on two tasks assessing language and number cannot be derived from the pattern of proficiencies and impairments in the adult phenotypic outcome. Single word comprehension was assessed using a visual preference paradigm. All groups (Williams syndrome, Down syndrome, chronological age and mental age-matched controls) looked longer at the stimuli which matched the verbal label but the infants with Down syndrome and Williams syndrome were equally delayed (equivalent to their mental age controls). The similarity between the infants with Down syndrome and those with Williams syndrome did not parallel the difference present in the adult phenotypes, where vocabulary skill in Down syndrome is significantly lower than that in Williams syndrome. Number was assessed using a novelty preference paradigm, in which infants were familiarised with displays of 2 objects and then presented with 2 versus 3 objects. Infants with Williams syndrome discriminated between the familiar and novel numerosities. Infants with Down syndrome did not. Again, the difference between the Down syndrome and Williams syndrome infant groups did not parallel the pattern seen in the adult phenotypes, where individuals with Down syndrome performed better than those with Williams syndrome. It is therefore crucial to characterise the infant state, in order to understand fully the developmental trajectories of atypical groups.
Monica Cuskelly, Maria Einam, and Anne Jobling
Thirty-one young adults (17-23 years of age) with Down syndrome participated in two self-imposed delay of gratification trials. Thirty-six and forty-eight percent waited for the experimenter to return (15 minutes) on Trials 1 and 2 respectively, and thirty-six percent waited for the experimenter on both occasions. Expressive language differentiated those who waited from those who did not. A discriminant analysis which included measures of expressive language, temperament characteristics and parental attitudes to childrearing gave very good separation of the two groups. Directions for future researched are discussed.
Counting and cardinal understanding in children with Down syndrome and typically developing children
Joanna Nye, Michael Fluck, and Sue Buckley
This study compares the procedural counting ability (independently and with parental support) and conceptual understanding of cardinality of a group of children with Down syndrome and a group of typically developing children, matched for non-verbal mental age. Participants were 23 children with Down syndrome (chronological age range: 3.5 - 7 years; mental age range: 2.5 - 4 years) and 20 typically developing children (chronological age range: 2 - 4 years; mental age range: 2.5 - 4 years), and their main caregiver. The children were asked to count sets of toys (assessing procedural counting skills) and to give sets of toys (assessing understanding of cardinality), with set sizes between 2 and 18 items. The counting task was performed in two conditions, with and without parental support. The children were also asked to say the count word sequence aloud, to assess sequence production independent from object counting. The typically developing children produced significantly more number words altogether, longer standard number sequences and could count larger sets than the children with Down syndrome. Support from an adult improved performance on the count task significantly for both groups of children, and there was no significant difference between the groups in the degree of improvement, i.e. the zone of proximal development. No significant differences were found between the frequency of children (approximately one third) in each group who used counting to solve the give task, indicating an understanding of cardinality.