Latest News » Study: Preschoolers with Down syndrome don’t yet exhibit learning and memory impairment

Early intervention may "offer greater benefits to individuals with DS if they focus on...learning processes," according to a recently published study.

Researchers Lynette Roberts and Jenny Richmond of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, have found that preschool-aged children with Down syndrome (DS) do not exhibit the learning, memory and executive function impairments typically associated with adults with DS.

Roberts and Richmond studied 17 preschoolers with DS and 17 typically developing preschoolers, matching the so-called "mental age" (i.e. receptive language ability) of the two groups. The researchers used behavioral, eye-tracking, memory retention and deferred imitation tasks, among other tests, to measure language, motor and visual processing in the two groups. These activities rely on the hippocampus or the prefrontal cortex to be completed.

The researchers, whose findings were recently published in the journal Development Science, found that preschoolers with DS "performed equivalently to mental age-matched controls, suggesting that the disability-specific memory deficits documented in adults with DS, in addition to a cognitive delay, are not yet evident in preschoolers with DS, and likely emerge with age."

Consequently, Roberts and Richmond concluded that their results "reinforce the idea that early childhood may be a critical time frame for targeted early interventions," and that the additional chromosome-21 — the most prevalent diagnostic characteristic of Down syndrome — may have changing effects on the development of people with DS as they age.

According to the National Down Syndrome Society, one in every 691 babies is born with DS, and there are currently more than 400,000 adults with DS in the United States. Most people with DS experience developmental delays, and though they possess many talents and abilities, the findings of this study may encourage parents of preschoolers with DS to implement early intervention strategies that could improve their children's cognitive development from an early age.

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