Brief reports of recent research findings.
Families and schools influence academic achievements
Research by Stephen Turner and colleagues has identified both school and parental
factors that influence the academic progress of children with Down syndrome through
to their adult lives. Their findings demonstrate that, as with all children, cognitive
abilities do predict progress - more able children at the start of schooling tended
to make more academic progress - but school placement also had a significant effect
even when starting abilities are taken into account. Children with Down syndrome
who were educated in mainstream school classrooms had higher academic achievements
in reading, writing and number which continued into their adult lives. In addition,
progress was influenced by family factors. When parents are able to adopt a practical
approach to coping with problems, look for sources of help and actively problem-solve,
this style of functioning helps their children to achieve their potential. In addition,
if parents feel that they, themselves, are 'in control' of their lives and make
their own decisions â€“ this also has a positive effect on their children's progress.
Precise descriptions of Down syndrome
This Research Highlight discusses two recent research papers reporting
on the behavioural phenotype (or specific profile of strengths and weaknesses) associated
with Down syndrome. This kind of information may be very helpful in alerting parents
and professionals to the particular difficulties a child may have. It may also lead
to the development of different approaches to treatment or interventions for children
with different conditions â€“ even when they all have similar global levels of delay
as measured by mental ability tests.
Cholesterol levels and Alzheimer type dementia
Warren Zigman and colleagues have investigated the link between cholesterol levels
and Alzheimer type dementia among adults with Down syndrome. Their research suggests
that cholesterol is an important risk factor for Alzheimer's disease among people
with Down syndrome and that perhaps cholesterol-lowering drugs could delay or prevent
the onset of Alzheimer type dementia. However, the authors note that clinical trials
of statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs) among the general population have not been
encouraging and emphasise the need for rigorous clinical trials to establish a protective
effect (if any) among older people with Down syndrome.
Exceptional reading among young people with Down syndrome
It seems unlikely that a child with Down syndrome will have age-appropriate reading
skills yet show significant delay on measures of verbal and non-verbal mental age
yet this is the pattern reported by Margriet Groen and colleagues in a detailed
case study. This is a detailed and fascinating paper that provides a detailed account
of the skills of a reader with Down syndrome. Reading ability is not the only strength
observed. Exceptional speech skills, visual and verbal short-term memory skills
and better expressive grammar are noted.
DSE's Reading and Language Intervention for Children with Down Syndrome (RLI) is an evidence-based programme designed to teach reading and language skills to children with Down syndrome.
RLI incorporates best practice in structured activities delivered in fast-paced daily teaching sessions. It was evaluated in a randomised controlled trial and found to improve rates of progress compared to ordinary teaching.
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