Configural Knowledge in People with Down Syndrome

Previous research suggests that young adults with
Down syndrome often struggle with learning the layout
of a place after traveling through it, or wayfinding. This
is an important skill because it allows us to find new
routes, take shortcuts, and orient when lost. Zach’s
dissertation study sought to understand how this
difficulty emerges over multiple exposures to a new
environment. To do this, participants traveled through a
virtual environment, then were asked to try to find a
shortcut. The game was repeated three times to see how
they perform with new exposures.

Zach tested 20 young adults with Down
syndrome (many from the registry - thank you all!), 17
typically developing children, and 27 typically
developing adults. The findings suggest that the
participants with Down syndrome struggled to find a
shortcut after each exposure to the environment
compared to typical adults. Also, participants with Down
syndrome did not improve after initial exposure whereas
the typically developing children did.

These findings could be used to create
wayfinding programs for people with Down syndrome.
Perhaps focusing on specific cognitive strategies or using
technology to assist learning could improve wayfinding
skills. This, in turn, would hopefully lead to more
opportunities for independence for young adults with
Down syndrome. From this research, Zach was able to
obtain his PhD in Cognitive and Developmental
Psychology!

Modeling the Relationships Among Sustained Attention, Short-Term Memory, and Language in Down Syndrome

Language can be a challenge for youth with Down syndrome (DS). Gayle's dissertation study sought to determine if reasons for this language difficulty in Down syndrome include sustained attention (the ability to maintain attention over time), and short-term memory (the temporary storage and retrieval of information in memory).

Gayle tested 37 participants (many from the registry - thank you all!) and found that sustained attention to auditory information (e.g., spoken language) predicted language through short-term memory of auditory information. In other words, youth with Down syndrome sustain attention to language, then crucially hold the attended information into short-term memory, to eventually learn language.

These findings hold potential implications for language therapy with youth with Down syndrome. Perhaps addressing auditory sustained attention in language therapy with youth with Down syndrome could improve outcomes, though this idea needs to be tested with additional research. From this research Gayle was able to obtain her PhD in Developmental Psychology!

Wayfinding Skills in Youth with Down Syndrome: What Parents Say

Dr. Yingying “Jennifer” Yang conducted an online survey to gather feedback from parents of children with Down syndrome (DS) about their child’s ability to navigate their environment, a skill known as wayfinding. Past studies have shown that wayfinding is difficult for people with DS, however little is known about their real-life wayfinding abilities. Many registry families participated in this study - thank you!

Dr. Yang’s study focused on 86 parents of young people with DS between the ages of 12-25. Participants completed an online survey on their children’s wayfinding behaviors and also provided some of their own feelings and expectations about their children’s wayfinding ability and wayfinding confidence.

There were several interesting findings from this study. Parents reported that their children had limited wayfinding knowledge, yet the children were very confident in their own wayfinding abilities. Over half of parents planned to teach their children wayfinding skills or had already done so; roughly 1/3 of parents did not plan on teaching these skills. A majority of parents were concerned about their children getting lost at least sometimes. Parents who reported lower levels of concern had taught their children some wayfinding skills and reported better wayfinding skills in their children. Future studies will need to focus on social and safety concerns, as well as cognitive aspects of wayfinding.

This study will be published in the Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability. Co-authors with Jennifer Yang are Gayle. G. Faught, and Edward C. Merrill.